Monthly Archives: September 2012

Wild Song

A little Tempest-uous is one way of describing Jane Eagland’s new book for Barrington Stoke. It’s for teens, it’s dyslexia friendly, and it’s been inspired by Shakespeare. At least I think it has.

Jane Eagland, Wild Song

It’s about Anna who lives on an island with her father, and his assistant and a couple of servants. Everything is ‘fine’ and Anna rather fancies the assistant. She is grateful to him for being so kind to her.

That’s when a young man is washed ashore and almost left for dead. Anna finds out new things from him, and her view of the world changes.

This is nicely romantic and it gets quite exciting when…

I imagine someone who comes fresh to Wild Song will find it intriguing and will hopefully want to read more like it. As for me, I would obviously have liked it to be longer, but there is a reason why it’s not. I want lots of girls who don’t read much to find this and to enjoy it. Maybe even move on to other classic love stories.


Bookwitch bites #88

As I was hinting in yesterday’s review, authors really can’t make their minds up, can they? Eva Ibbotson has very sweet, vegetarian abominable snowmen. Derek Landy’s version are the worst possible. They tried to… (oops, spoiler)

Never mind.

And then there is that J K Rowling who has a new book out that dares not to be about wizards. I like that. It’s not even about vampires. And I gather the only dystopia is our own. As it already is, and all that. I’m supposed to be getting a copy. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll let you know. Do you reckon after Harry and Barry, the next hero will be called, erm, Larry?

I could kill that Ian Rankin for spreading rumours J K was writing a crime novel. He should stick to balls in BSL.

Although, sticking to things aren’t always for the best. Stephen and Lucy Hawking have new covers for the George trilogy, and for such a stick-in-the-mud, I do like the new covers better than the old ones.
Lucy and Stephen Hawking, George trilogy
Aren’t they cool? Surely any child would want to read these? I would almost want to be a child again. Almost.

Whenever I receive information as a member of the Jacqueline Wilson fan club (yes, really) I do feel quite young. The message from Dame JW herself in celebration of the newly re-designed website makes me want to worship at her knee.

And there is Emerald Star still to enjoy. It was published this week, but whereas super fan Daughter has read it, I had to stand in queue and will get to it shortly. Time she grew up and let me be the child. After all, I am the shortest.

Skulduggery Pleasant – Kingdom of the Wicked

The good thing about fantasy is that the author can bring back dead characters.

The bad thing about fantasy is that the author can bring back dead characters.

So basically, you’re only as dead as Derek Landy wants you to be. In Skulduggery Pleasant, Kingdom of the Wicked, Derek kills and revives his characters at an astonishing speed, even for him.

Valkyrie and Skulduggery have their work cut out, when lots of people suddenly find they have magic powers. That is not good. Colleagues overseas don’t think what is happening in Ireland is terribly good, either. And Valkyrie really would like to spend more time with her family (before she, as Darquesse, kills them), but she is needed elsewhere.

Heads roll. People come back. Skulduggery and Valkyrie do that humourous banter thing they always do. There is more than one reality. (And I really do wish authors could agree on whether abominable snowmen are good or bad!) This is gruesome stuff. Whether it’s worse than normal, or if I just never noticed quite how gory before, I don’t know. But I love it!

Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant - Kingdom of the Wicked

I shouldn’t, though. There is absolutely nothing about the book that would tempt me – in my role as an old woman –  if I came to it now. I don’t particularly like the cover (I used to) and the blurb is like any other fantasy blurb. Even the old trick of reading the first chapter wouldn’t do it for me. If I wasn’t already a fan, obviously. Perhaps we need an adult cover, like HP?

But I do like the dedication. That alone would sell the book. Derek has dedicated Kingdom of the Wicked to the publisher’s PR department. I know most of them. He has a little personal bit for each and every one. It’s very nice, done with just the right level of love and humour.

(But dearest Derek, there is no such thing as the wrong train for you to get on. If you’re on it, how can it be the wrong train?)

Ending with a cliffhanger, this is worse even than when we ‘lost’ Tanith. That thing I’d been concerned about for some time, really happens. And after kind, sweet Derek had lulled me into a false sense of security, too.

How could you?

The 19th edition

of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phase and Fable is here! Happily for me it comes recommended by Philip Pullman* and Terry Pratchett. Also by the Resident IT Consultant, who yet again has been permitted to take over. This time he has really gone to town, but a reference book like Brewer’s deserves it.

My ignorant immigrant self has never quite worked out what it’s for. Because I seem to have been adopted by an old looking version of Brewer’s, I got it out again for comparison, and I noticed it even smells old. It wasn’t until I read the review below, that I grasped it is a facsimile edition. (Doesn’t explain the smell, but…)

Anyway, this very useful book has been subjected to a harsh test, and it seems to have come out of it fairly unscathed. Funny that my very own King had something to do with it, but there you are.

“I first discovered Brewer’s Dictionary of Phase and Fable in my local library more than forty years ago and have owned a facsimile of the 1894 edition for many years. I have always regarded it as a reliable source of arcane nineteenth century facts so I was rather surprised to discover that new editions have been published every three or four years since 1959. This latest is edited by Susie Dent and published by Chambers Harrap.

A new edition implies new material and there are indeed new entries for such terms as ‘quantitative easing’, ‘Tea Party’, big society’ and ‘app’ together with new lists of Internet social networking acronyms (so there is no excuse for misunderstanding LOL) and eggcorns (phrases which enter the language as a result of linguistic errors by speakers who have misheard an original).

How do you review a reference book like this in an age when it seems as if any question can be answered instantly on the Internet? I decided to pick ten entries at random and explore how easy it was to learn about them on the Internet.

First came the Geneva Bull, a nickname given to the seventeenth century Presbyterian divine Stephen Marshall. You can find this on the Internet (mainly in 19th century works in Google Books), but it’s not in Wikipedia, or in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica from which Wikipedia derives its entry.

Next was half-blue. This is easy to find. Wikipedia provides a detailed account of the operation of the Oxbridge blues system, though you have to dig around in it to find out what a half-blue is. Most online dictionaries provide an equivalent definition.

My next selection was the hero of medieval English romance, Guy of Warwick. Brewer’s provides a succinct synopsis of the stories and legends surrounding him, mentioning the works in which they are to be found. Wikipedia provides more detail, and traces the role of the story in literary history.

Fourth was the Cabbage Garden, a nickname applied to the Australian state of Victoria. This would be hard to find from the Internet. Wikipedia has an entry for the Cabbage Garden but it refers to a burial ground in Dublin! Only when you know to look for its use in the context of Victoria can you find it using Google. Even then there is some dispute about its age as a nickname, though Partridge agrees with Brewer that it comes from the 1920s.

Sac and soc’ is a phrase used to describe rights in private jurisdiction conveyed in land transfers around the time of the Norman Conquest. You can find references to it in online dictionaries but it is only when you realise that it’s the same as ‘sake and soke’ that you find a more thorough account in Wikipedia.

My next choice came from a list of famous last words. Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish king killed at the battle of Lützen in 1632 (during the Thirty Years War) is reported to have said ‘I am sped brother. Save thyself.’ I cannot find these words anywhere else. There seems to be fairly clear consensus that Gustaf Adolphus’s last words were Gud vare mig nådelig, literally translated as ‘God be merciful’ or simply ‘My God’, which is what most Internet sources report.

Next was yellow card, as used in football. Wikipedia provides a detailed account of yellow and red cards in different sports. Most online dictionaries explain what a yellow card is but Brewer’s goes slightly further by explaining its use in relation to a subsequent red card.

The eighth entry was one of several under Two, The two-legged mare, said to be a sobriquet for the gallows. It’s fairly easy to discover this from the Internet, though some confusion arises from the fact that the gallows that stood at Tyburn (roughly on the site of the modern Marble Arch) in London until 1783 had three verticals and was called the ‘three-legged mare’. This is presumably the origin of its use as an inn sign. Partridge confirms that both nicknames were used, and dates their use from 1565.

Liberty ships came next. Brewer describes them as ‘standardised prefabricated cargo ships of about 10,000 tons, much used by the USA during the Second World War.’ Online dictionaries tend not to provide so much detail, particularly in relation to their prefabrication or their size. Wikipedia, as usual, provides much more detail.

Finally came ‘Shurely Shome Mishtake’ included in a list of phrases from Private Eye that have entered popular culture. The origin of this phrase is fairly easy to find on the Internet though Wikipedia cites it as ‘shome mishtake, shurely’ and it is difficult to establish which form has priority. Possibly both were used.

Only four of these entries can be found in my 1894 facsimile. Two-legged mare and Geneva Bull have had their language updated but are essentially unchanged. Guy of Warwick has been completely rewritten and is now much more concise and less flowery, though without its former literary references. There are no entries for half-blue or sac and soc (despite the fact that both terms must have been current in 1894). Gustaf Adolphuslast words, listed in 1894 under ‘Dying Sayings’, are ‘My God!’

This randomly chosen list of entries gives a good indication of the range of subjects covered by Brewer’s though there is no attempt at completeness: Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie Dundee and Bonnie Prince Charlie are included but not the Bonnie Earl O’ Moray; the Dashing White Sargent is included but not Strip The Willow; God Particle is included but not Higgs Boson (a cross reference would be enough).

Nevertheless the book is tremendous fun to browse in, and I think that is its main strength. It is generally very well cross referenced so, for example, ‘Geneva Bull’ is referenced from the heading for ‘Bull’ as well as ‘Geneva’. This makes it easy to find an entry and often tempts the reader to follow an intriguing cross reference.

It would make a good source of quiz questions. For example, what links James Hogg, Sir Walter Raleigh and the eighteenth century prime minister George Grenville? Their nicknames. They are, respectively, the Ettrick Shepherd, the Shepherd of the Oceans (Edmund Spencer) and the Gentle Shepherd (William Pitt).”

* As Philip says ‘before you know what’s happened, it’s time for lunch.’ I know that feeling. Except at Bookwitch Towers it was more like next week.

What Helen is doing next

First you have to decide which Helen I am talking about.

Fine, then. I’ll help you. It’s Helen Grant. She very kindly drove all the way to Stirling when we were in Bloody Scotland weekend before last. She came just to see us. Actually, there was some kind of sleeping bag on the agenda, but mainly she was wanting to share tea and cake and trilogies.

Those being some of my main skills in life, it seemed like a good idea. Although, I always forget that whereas Helen really is a lovely person, her books feel very, sort of,  menacing? She scares me more than most, and the way she taps into spooky German places, and now spooky Belgian places is, well, spooky.

Helen Grant and her new book, Silent Saturday

Helen has recently moved to Random House, and I like their cover for the new book. Which incidentally, and sadly, won’t be with us until some time in spring 2013. As I said, it’s a trilogy, and I’m not sure I felt reassured by the way Helen suggested the end might be a bit gruesome. Or at least, not all sunshine and happiness.

Helen Grant, Silent Saturday

But I am looking forward to Silent Saturday, since I have every reason to believe it’s going to be as fantastic a read as Helen’s previous novels.

She seems to be out of step with the places she is being scary in. As her first German book arrived on the scene, she moved to Belgium, and it’s only now that she’s back in Britain, that her Belgian novels are ready.

So my wait for some bloody Scottish novels could be a long one.

The tea was pleasant. Despite Stirling doing its best to close tearooms as it saw us coming, we found a new one I’d not tried before, and it was good. Tea with flavour for a change, and home made quality cake. Copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica lining the walls. Really proper for a literary chat.


Helen even brought me postcards from Gent, where the trilogy is set. I’m already worrying about someone falling off the tower. Not sure which tower exactly, but I happen to know she has done some high-up research, and someone is bound to fall off some tower or other.


The Abominables

I only cried when I got to the last page of The Abominables, so it has to be said I held out well. And I didn’t cry because it’s the last book by Eva Ibbotson, but because by the end it was definitely well  into hanky territory. (Hidden part of the Himalayas.)

Written before Journey to the River Sea and Eva’s other more recent big successes, I wonder whether it was considerably before them? I know that Eva often wrote in such a timeless fashion that her stories are hard to date. But The Abominables feel older than twenty years, say. It’s got the feel of a true, old-fashioned children’s book. The way they were.

In a way I didn’t feel at all tempted by yetis in the Himalayas, but I knew being Eva’s it would be great. And it was.

Eva Ibbotson, The Abominables

Yetis are not terrible at all. They are lovely, kind, intelligent creatures. And they never eat people. If we are confused, it’s because they are going when we think they are coming, and the other way round.

The young Victorian girl Lady Agatha is kidnapped by a yeti, and ends up living with a clan of them. She teaches them Victorian standards, as is only right and proper, and they love her.

You live long in those mountains, and longer still if you’re a yeti, but sooner or later modern life has to encroach on their Victorian paradise. To save her yetis, Lady Agatha sends them on a journey to England and her old home, where they will be safe.

It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking, and anything but straightforward. But this being an old-fashioned kind of story, there has to be something worthwhile at the end.

There is. Hankies ready?

(I wouldn’t object to more of Eva’s stories being found.)

Extremely loveable yeti portraits by Sharon Rentta.

Passionate about Pashki – the Nick Green interview

We thank you for your patience. I am very aware of the time it has taken for this interview with Nick Green to see the light of a computer screen near you.

We have actually collaborated on the date for this, Nick and his publisher Keith Charters at Strident Publishing, and I. The third Cat Kin novel will be ready for you in October, and I want you nice and excited for its arrival.

Nick Green

In fact, I want people to appreciate that I haven’t even reviewed it here yet, despite reading it well over a year ago. I have reigned in my passion, and all that. (I might have mentioned it, a very little bit. It’s really good…)

But it’s not available just yet. So first you will have time to read about Nick in this interview. And any spare time you end up suffering from, can be put to good use (re)reading The Cat Kin and Cat’s Paw. (If you’re like me, and need any refreshing of facts and stuff.)

And I shall dust off my reviewer’s hat and see what I can say about the marvellous end to a tremendous trilogy. I can’t believe I shall finally be able to tell you what I’ve wanted to say for so long!

The Black Cat Detectives

Books for younger readers are tricky. Because I have to admit that I review – primarily – for me and others like me, who are a little older, but who like to read books for children. And it is easy to read YA, because we are all 21. Early teen books, also mostly straightforward. But the age group below demands that the book is really pretty good, both for me to review it, and for me to feel that other 21-year-olds (cough) will enjoy it.

(I suspect I’ve just admitted to YA books getting a recommendation, despite them being crap…)

Anyway, Wendy Meddour is someone who writes for young people, while still making the reading fun for the rest of us. I was about to say that if I stop reading Wendy’s books, it would be due to lack of time. But they are fast reads, so will easily fit into a tight reading schedule. (Laying myself wide open, here.)

Wendy Meddour, Balloonride

The Black Cat Detectives feature the children we met in A Hen in the Wardrobe. And apart from being a humorous early crime story, what I like is that it’s got characters who aren’t white, or typically ‘English.’ Not even black, but Asian/Muslim. I’m not one for percentages and quotas, but we really could do with more normal stories about this category of British residents.

OK, soapbox stuff dealt with, so let’s crack on. This is about creepycrawlies and loneliness and online marriage agencies. Ramzi and Shaima want to help Auntie Urooj find a husband, and this being treated in traditional – with a modern twist – style there is no shame in an arranged marriage. Urooj is quite happy with both the idea and with the prospective husband they find online.

But isn’t he a bit fishy? Also, a beetle expert might want a man more sympathetic to the insect world. Ramzi and Shaima need to sort out what’s wrong with this suitor before it’s too late.

Wendy Meddour, Nanna Stalk

Lovely story, and the granny is fantastic! I want to read more about her.

Bookwitch bites #87

As you might have noticed, I have found Terry Pratchett’s horses. Go back to Thursday’s blog where the lovely horses, and the carriage, have been added. Oh, go on, I’ll put the horses here too.

Dodger's horses

While I’m feeling a bit Pratchetty, I’ll post this link to an interview Terry did in the spring, on the Late Late Show. Me being me, I thought of the American Late Show. Was very relieved to find it was an Irish namesake, because the quality of the interview was rather better for it.

My journey to Soho on Wednesday wasn’t quite in the style of Sir Terry’s, but it was OK. You know how I am a witch? I looked at the London train before mine (Is it only in the UK you worry so much about your connecting train being late, that you catch the one before?) and thought to myself I had never seen the 11-coach Pendolino. (Is this too geeky?) So, obviously my train when it arrived turned out to be an 11-coach Pendolino.

That means that coaches E and G no longer join together, but have coaches F and U between them. (Fascinating, isn’t it?) I sat in E. In case anyone is interested.

So that’s where I ended up assisting in the translating of a Danish press release about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and you-know-what. At the time I thought ‘oh, it will be some sort of homework,’ until I recalled the caller no longer is in a place where homework is handed out.

I’m going to have to find some sort of Danish-English dictionary if this is going to go on. (It has, already. Gone on.) I have done deeds, also in Danish. And I don’t even ‘get’ them in Swedish.

The travelling has been paused. I need a rest. Although, I am considering ScareFest 3 on Saturday 6th of October, in Crosby Civic Hall. At least if my horse and carriage will get me there. If it does, I will be entertained by Philip Caveney, Curtis Jobling, Jon Mayhew, Tommy Donbavand, Joseph Delaney, Barry Hutchison and David Gatward (who I don’t know at all).

Apparently it’s Halloween come early. You need to catch the little ones before half term.


I was going to ask Morris Gleitzman why he decided to write a fourth book about Felix, and especially one set between the second and third books. I didn’t have to, however, since he explains why in the back of After. Apparently Felix himself felt he wasn’t quite done, yet. And since we already knew he survived to become an old man, that’s not a spoiler.

After is set just before the end of WWII, but because the people living through that period didn’t know about that, it’s not as if it makes their lives easier. Felix is not having a good time at all, when circumstances change to his living hidden in the barn.

He is 13 now, but still as wonderfully naïve, and just as kind and good natured, as he was at six. Not wanting to give too much away, it’s hard to talk about this book. Felix meets and loses several people important to him. He himself becomes important to others, and he does his bit for the anti-war effort.

Felix is constantly hoping for some parental figure to love him. It doesn’t matter so much who, as long as there is someone. Starvation and the cold make life almost impossible, and there are other events which go a long way to explaining Felix as an old man.

But it’s the humour which matters the most. That, and kindness. It’s odd that you can have so much humour in what is such a bleak story. You – almost – know that the book will have to end well in some way, but it is impossible to guess how.

I don’t know about Felix, but I could read more. Felix the teenager. Felix the adult. He’s a lovely person and we feel better for getting to know him.