Monthly Archives: July 2012

Are those for me?

No, is the short answer. They were not.

It was just not very easy at all to work out why someone had sent me 31 books, two each of fifteen titles and one single title. Even if I feel enthusiastic about reviewing, this looked like overkill. It looked like a load of books for a bookshop.

I started my investigation, because I suspected someone somewhere was not only missing their 31, but staring in bafflement at the five (?) that were really meant for me. Or perhaps my five went somewhere different again.

The invoice was mine, but the titles looked unfamiliar, so I had no idea why I wanted them. One looked so Swedish (albeit in English) that I felt a bit funny about it.

Someone connected to the 31 slowly sorted things out. At least I think they did. I was asked to pack the 31 and have them ready for collection. And I was promised my five books. When the five arrived, the penny dropped. I had asked for them. I just didn’t know the titles, and there was no author mentioned on the invoice.

(He is Ulf Stark, a Swedish author, who will be coming my way later this year. Hopefully. And the books were there to educate me.)

All that remained was for the others to be reunited with their expectant owners.


Fiva – An Adventure That Went Wrong

When Gordon Stainforth told me about his book I thought it sounded quite promising. And then it arrived (suitably on the day when I had happily blogged about danger), and I had a little look, and almost immediately went into lock-down over dangerous behaviour on mountains. It’s something I find really hard to deal with. This being non-fiction makes it harder still, because it’s real, and not even the fact that Gordon survived to write the book made all that much difference. (Although I am obviously glad he did survive.)

So I handed the book over to the Resident IT Consultant who does not suffer from stupid nervous mountain afflictions.

‘In the summer of 1969, as Apollo 11 was blasting off to the moon, two teenage twin brothers, with only three years’ mountaineering experience, set off to climb one of the highest rock faces in Europe. With just two bars of chocolate, some sandwiches, a four-sentence route description and an old sketch map, they left their tent early one morning with the full expectation of being back in time for tea. Within a few hours things had gone badly wrong, they were looking death in the face, and the English Home Counties seemed very far away …’


I really enjoyed reading Gordon Stainforth’s Fiva, An Adventure That Went Wrong. It reminded me of some of the books that I used to borrow from the local library when I was fifteen or sixteen. There was a good supply of mountaineering classics, and I worked my way through them all. Their focus was mainly on the Himalayas: I particularly remember Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna. The sense of endeavour in faraway places appealed to me.

Fiva is a real life account of an ascent of the Fiva route climb on Trollveggen in Norway, written by a participant from the perspective of his nineteen-year-old self. It successfully recreates the atmosphere of the late 1960s and both the enthusiastic capability and the inexperience and impulsiveness of youth.

Would it appeal to today’s fifteen and sixteen-year-olds?  It is clearly written and energetically paced. The account of the climb is both exciting and graphically described. It is accessible: there is enough explanation of rock climbing, and a brief glossary. The author’s perspective ensures it avoids becoming condescending.

The circumstances of today’s teenagers are very different. I enjoyed the period feel of the book but might they find it hard to identify with two public school-educated nineteen-year-olds from 1969? I think we underestimate them. Teenage energy and enthusiasm were not so very different then. What was different was the opportunity to pursue them. We had the freedom to do things that would be unthinkable today. I was munro-bagging by the age of fifteen.

Might the book encourage readers to emulate the authors (who both come out of their adventure suffering no real harm)? If it did I think it would be no bad thing. There is enough description of the dangers for an imaginative reader to appreciate them.

In other words, let’s embrace danger!

Losing yourself in a book

Reviewing Between the Lines a while ago, I was thinking some more about this fantasy idea of getting lost inside a good book. Or a bad book, for that matter.

I mean, I obviously don’t know whether it is really possible. Maybe Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer made it up? But if it is possible, it’s interesting. And what difference would you experience if it’s War and Peace in paperback, totally un-illustrated and just hundreds and hundreds of tightly packed pages of small printed words?

Or even worse, what might happen if you only had an ebook to hand? You go and lose yourself in a story inside an electronic book. There might be pictures, and there will be words. Many or few; it all depends on what the story is.

The thing about ebooks, though, is that they usually contain lots of books. So, maybe you lose your grip on a particularly slippery word, and before you know it, you are somewhere else. Start off inside Five on a Treasure Island (do you get eBlytons?) and you’re having a jolly old time with those gold ingots. But as you descend once more into the cave, you suddenly end up in Kidnapped. Or one of the complete works of Trollope. (Someone close to me went crazy and bought the affordable, complete works of several old literary heavyweights, so it could easily happen.)

I expect untold amounts of damage could be done if you ‘read between the lines’ in an ebook. And I can’t work out if it’d be harder or easier to fall out of one of those stories. An ebook seems more sealed up, doesn’t it? With pages made of paper you stand more chance of dropping out.

And what if the internet book giant recalls you?

Horse power

We met these horses the other day. They look very nice. I know virtually nothing about horses, and that includes why they have what appears to be rubber drinking straws down their cheeks. It could be a fashion thing. Or, extremely practical.

Horses by Särdals Kvarn

I think there are four of them. Counting legs got me to 14 legs, which is roughly three and a half horses.

Then there were horses with very short legs, but each with a full set.

Short horses by Särdals Kvarn

At Yellow Lake

This is a great book!

I just needed to get that out of the way, because neither the cover, the title or the blurb of Jane McLoughlin’s debut would have sold me on the book, and I’m sorry if I sound a bit grumpy. Luckily it’s a Frances Lincoln book, and they had the good sense to have four people whose opinions I trust write the inside cover recommendations.

Jane McLoughlin, At Yellow Lake

They made me take a proper look, and I came to understand this was not some weird book about American summer camp. Some summer camp that would have been!

It is not quite as scary as an Anne Cassidy (she’s one of the four) book, for which I am grateful. But it is hair raising enough, and I must mention that I thoroughly disapprove of the poor parental skills the parents of the three main characters, Etta, Peter and Noah, possess. But I suppose it was either that, or kill them off, and there’s been enough death as it is, without resorting to more.

Etta’s mother has very bad taste in boyfriends. Peter’s mother has just died, and his father thinks too much of himself and too little of his son. Noah’s mother refuses to talk to him about his Native American background.

English teenager Peter escapes to find his mother’s cabin by Yellow Lake in the woods in Wisconsin. Etta lives nearby, while Noah decides to search for his roots in the same area.

The bad-tasting boyfriend causes the rest to happen, along with his criminal associates, and everything comes to a head in those woods near Yellow Lake, with not a single summer camp in sight. Will the three teenagers even survive?

This is a book for young teens, so you can draw your own conclusions. It’s very much the kind of book where you read ‘just five more pages’ before you do whatever you were going to do. And another five. Maybe ten.

The only thing I missed was more explanation of the how and the who towards the end. Sometimes there is nothing scarier than a church-going, law-abiding American. And it’s hard for whites to understand the chip on the shoulder carried by – some – Native Americans.

But other than that, it’s ‘lovely,’ as Peter would say.

In the Land of Twilight

No, this isn’t about that Twilight! This is one of the more unknown (to me) books by Astrid Lindgren, and one I feel certain I never read before coming across the English translation. In fact, the description of the story had me worried in case it turned out to be about the little fat man with the propeller on his back.

It’s not, but apparently it led to the books about Karlsson-on-the-roof, so my fears were not totally unfounded.

Astrid Lindgren, In the Land of Twilight

The young boy Goran (Göran) has a bad leg, so can’t go out. He is visited by strange Mr Lilyvale who takes him out on adventures around Stockholm, but only in the twilight hour. Goran gets to have all sorts of adventures this way, seeing unusual sights and getting to do all sorts of things. He drives a bus and talks to an elk (I refuse to say moose!) and meets the King of Twilight.

Astrid Lindgren, In the Land of Twilight

Marit Törnqvist has done the illustrations, and because we are so used to seeing other people’s pictures in Astrid Lindgren’s books, this almost doesn’t feel like an Astrid Lindgren. Marit’s pictures of Stockholm by twilight are dreamlike, and very attractive.

I want to go on that tram.

Third book syndrome

Should I not want to read the third book? Or is it that the publishers don’t feel that X’s third novel merits as much media attention as the first one (definitely) did, and the second book mostly got?

There is obviously the family tree type of problem. I like someone’s books. They write more books, and I suspect I will like them too and I want to read them. Then I discover 150 other authors whose books I also enjoy. At some point in this branching off I will have to call it a day. It’s an impossible situation.

But if I feel fairly confident that I will have time to read and have a room in my heart (it’s a very big heart) for X’s new book, it’s sort of disappointing when the book fails to materialise.

If I didn’t receive, read or like the previous ones, it’s hardly surprising that they don’t send out the latest offering. But when I did, did and did, you’d have thought…

You know the book is out there because people talk about it (always good), and there are links on facebook to glowing reviews. When insecurity sets in, you check out people’s posts of the ‘in my mailbox’ type, to see what they’ve got. (Oh, they got the hardback, did they? And that book. And that other one. Haha, they don’t seem to have XYZ, though…)

Although I do have one particular third novel in mind right now, this is a general thing. If the author believes I will get the book ‘automatically’ and I don’t review it, there is only one thing they will think. If I’ve failed in keeping up with the publication date for the book, I will most likely not email anyone with my request.

There is eBay. Proofs have been known to make it there, when sent out to uninterested recipients. This very book appears not to have been eBayed. Perhaps very few copies were sent out. Hopefully this won’t prevent the author being able to put food on the table every day, or getting the children a few Christmas presents when the time comes.

Times are hard. But once the publishers have spent all that money on editing and printing; why stop there?

(I must state here that the particular third novel I had in mind has arrived, courtesy of its fed-up author. Thank you! You know who you are. [I will now see about selling my copy on eBay…])

Howl’s Moving Castle

I have found a witch after my own heart in Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. What’s more, Diana knows what it’s like to be old(er), to have creaking knees and how to say what you think. Whether this works with young readers I have no idea, but the book was based on a suggestion from a boy at a school event, and even the dedication is wonderful.

Sophie is 17 (I think) when she is cursed by a not very nice witch, and ends up feeling and looking like 90. She leaves home and tries to find a new life, where a girl can be 90 and still manage.

She moves in with Howl in his castle, which as the title suggests never stays in one place. Two other males live there, and Sophie soon drives them all a little crazy. She cleans and she scolds.

There are puzzles to solve and spells to deal with. Sophie’s two younger sisters also get mixed up, in more ways than one, and there is witchcraft and wizardry seemingly everywhere. While Howl irritates Sophie (now what does that make you think of?) she needs to work out who the dog is, why the scarecrow seems so scary, and whether Howl really eats pretty young women. Perhaps that is why she is better off as an old crone?

This book seemed to take a long time to read, until I got to the end, and then I was very surprised it had ended. I feel there is more that needs saying. Luckily Diana thought so too, and there are two sequels.

I’m slowly feeling my way with Diana’s books, and this trilogy seemed like good company to take on holiday. I need stories that allow old women to be difficult and cantankerous.

Pizza Cake

You have to love Morris Gleitzman! There is something so nice and kind in all that he writes. You feel good. You can even hope that it’s not all going to go horribly wrong. Life is Pizza Cake.

Pizza Cake is a collection of ten funny stories, and oh, how I wish Morris’s unusual perception of teachers could be true! (Or maybe not? You never know.) There is the memory of a grandfather who was brave. The pain of having a funny name.

I didn’t quite get the dad’s diary story, but that was probably just me. Complaining is very me. Was, anyway. Could your sister’s boyfriend be a vampire? And when is funny food actually quite nice?

The importance of paperclips must never be underestimated. Life is always unfair, and writing stories is good.

You’ll enjoy every single one of these tales. I did. The book could have been a lot longer.

Pizza Cake

(I wanted a normal cover image, but found none, so picked this off Morris’s website. My book is red, not blue. But this will do.)

I’m no poodle

We went chasing rainbows the other evening. We didn’t know we would, but when we saw the double rainbow, we couldn’t resist. (The rumours are just that. Rumours. No pot of gold anywhere.)

Double rainbows with small dog on the side

It was out by the old lifeboat station, and it was nice and peaceful. While I searched for a suitable rock to rest on (I’m not as young as I was) we were overtaken by lady with cute poodle. She then proceeded to place said poodle on on a nice looking rock (one I could have sat on) and went on to take lots of photos, while the dog posed like it was born to model.

So she got a poodle with rainbows in the background. She even showed us her earlier attempts at seagull with rainbow. The poodle ones were nicer. (In some places people would be wary of stopping and chatting to weird foreigners, let alone whipping out their fancy phones in front of them.)

As poodle and lady left, I sat down on the rock. The Resident IT Consultant clearly felt he needed a poodle alternative, so bravely jumped across to some other rocks from which to photograph his wife.

And what a mistake that was! Maybe one day he’ll learn not to ruin perfectly good double rainbows with witches on rocks.

Next time he’ll know to borrow the poodle.

Fishing huts with rainbows