Monthly Archives: October 2012

Wolves, again

It’s autumn. Time for another Joan Aiken Wolf-fest. As I said, wolves appear to be the in thing right now. Jonathan Cape brought out a lovely Wolves of Willoughby Chase last year, and now it’s back in time for the 50th anniversary of the first Wolves. Same edition, but wearing new clothes. This dust jacket is, if possible, even more appealing than the last one.

And to be quite frank, I can find room for lots of Aiken wolves on my shelves. But I won’t review it again, this excellent start to a most wonderful series of books. What I want is for the remaining ten books to magically pop up in this new edition as well. I went back to my emails from last year, and realised I just might have read them wrong. Maybe, just maybe, they said other classics were coming; and not that more Willoughby Chase stories will be re-issued.

Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

In that case – please, please, pretty please, change your minds!

Wolves is good, but as I mentioned last year, it is not the best of them. Black Hearts in Battersea is the next one, and is one of the very best, if not the best. And coming second, it wouldn’t be too hard to go there next, would it?

I’m not saying this because I need them. I have every single one, but there will be people who don’t. They need them, whether they know it or not.

There was a vivid discussion in the comments section here several years ago, when I blogged about Dido Twite, one of literature’s feistiest heroines. Even Lizza Aiken joined in, and I learned that The Whispering Mountain is actually a prequel. Which I didn’t know. I am pretty certain it is lurking somewhere, and I must unearth it, even if it involves cleaning and tidying.

Great tidings from the publisher about reissuing the Felix trilogy next year. Lovely. But it doesn’t mean we don’t need Battersea and Simon and Dido. And I don’t know why I found out about the event in Cheltenham one week after it happened. Howl!

Bookwitch bites #90

I’m very grateful to my faithful and hardworking commenters here on Bookwitch. Hence Seana’s link yesterday to a profile of Hilary Mantel in the New Yorker, was most welcome. I was going to say it was surprisingly timely, as well, but I’m guessing it was actually in the paper because of Hilary’s second Man Booker win.

Congratulations! I’m not a Hilary Mantel reader (yet) but I gather she is marvellous. The profile was a thorough and interesting one, and Seana suggested it on account of similarities she could see between Hilary and J K Rowling. Perhaps J K will win the Man Booker at some point in the future. Personally I hope for more children’s books from J K, but you never know.

Somewhere to rub shoulders with great names in the book world, is at next year’s Crimefest in Bristol. I have been reminded that if you book a place before October is out, you can buy it with a discount. And once you have your pass booked, you can also have the hotel booking cheaper. Win-win situation, in which you get all those lovely professional murderers. Just imagine; you too can meet Søren Sveistrup, the man behind Forbrydelsen (The Killing).

What goes on in people’s brains could be interesting, too. Sorry, not people. Teenagers. Slight difference. Nicola Morgan is going to talk brains in Edinburgh next month. She’s good on brains. I was feeling all nice and safe from this lovely event, until I realised I could probably actually be there. But it will be fine. Interesting, and not gruesome. That’s when Nicola operates on people without anesthetics. I pass out and that’s that. This will be most civilised.

The Royal Institution is also about brains. They are making it easier, or more accessible for smaller brains perhaps, with a series of one minute videos. On real subjects!

Lena Hubbard

And to usher in the weekend, here are a pair of almost identical interviews with Swedish singer Lena Andersson. You might prefer the one in English. But should you be feeling adventurous, the Swedish one is here. (They are not identical. Obviously.)

The YouTube clips should have you singing.

The Casual Vacancy

This isn’t one of those the-day-after reviews. I feel The Casual Vacancy required more time to read and digest than a Harry Potter style overnight read. The Casual Vacancy is no Harry Potter, and that’s just as well.

I have to admit that I don’t generally read, or even like, (adult) novels featuring the ghastly lives of sad and bitter people, with the odd bit of romance (hardly any, actually) thrown in. But The Casual Vacancy made for interesting reading, and J K Rowling may be no Dickens, but she does have a way with looking at our society. The Emperor’s New Clothes, kind of thing.

Neither the advance blurb, nor the reviews I glanced at beforehand described adequately what this book is about. I wonder if reviewers read it in too much of a hurry? In which case the publishers were wrong to embargo the novel quite so protectively.

Be that as it may. I quite liked TCV in the end. Pagford is a village seemingly full of unpleasant people, living too close to each other while hating their neighbours, or suspecting them of whatever they prefer to suspect people of. The Fields is where the undesirable and poor live. Barry Fairbrother came from the Fields, and made it to live in Pagford.

And that’s where he dies, on page four. He wanted the best for the Fields, but no one else seems to.

You want to believe that by the end of the novel some poor soul will have a better and happier life through some marvellous development or other. This might count as a ‘Dumbledore is dead’ kind of spoiler, but what you’d expect to happen in real life happens.

I think we – occasionally – need books that tell it as it is, with no fairy tale ending. I trust the kind of lifestyle J K has portrayed in both the Fields and in Pagford is worse than real life, but I’m not hopeful. I know I am pretty much like several of the women in TCV, and not in a flattering way, either. I went to school with teenagers like the Pagford/Fields ones.

There are four likeable characters in the book, which isn’t bad going for this neighbourhood.

It’d be great if something changed because people have read TCV. I don’t believe it will, but I’d like it to.

(The many brackets drove me bananas, but that might be a result of editing. Too many and too long. And I doubt that dyslexia prevents you from becoming bilingual.)

Rosalind and the Little Deer

This is an Elsa Beskow story I didn’t know. I am guessing it’s because it has only recently become a book, even in Swedish. The pictures are obviously Beskow originals from almost a hundred years ago, but maybe they haven’t appeared in book form until now.

Elsa Beskow, Rosalind and the Little Deer

Rosalind is a little girl who, with the help of her grandfather, writes (draws) a story. It is about Rosalind, who has a little deer. The deer is accidentally frightened and runs off, and is captured by a wicked King, as creatures often are in picture books.

The deer refuses to eat and there is a reward for managing to feed it. And eventually things happen much in the standard picture book way; after a bad start, things work out in the end.

While, for me, the pictures don’t have quite the same magic as the ones from my childhood, I suspect this is the reason. Elsa Beskow should be enjoyed at a young age, and you will always feel that special tug at your heart, no matter how old you are. This will do the same for today’s young readers, tomorrow.

Liar & Spy

Liar & Spy is what I have taken to labelling a New York kind of children’s book. Do you know what I mean? I love them with a passion, and I’ll have to stop ridiculing the Americans for loving boarding schools and castles and other charming – and English – things.

Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy

Rebecca Stead has written a wonderfully warm story about Georges, who has to move with his parents from their house in Brooklyn to an apartment when they fall on hard(er) times. It’s close enough that he can stay at his school. But he is being bullied, and his only friend has joined the ‘other side.’

There are other children in the apartment block, and Georges makes friends with Safer and his sister Candy, who are home-schooled. Safer invites Georges to join his spy club and they take to spying on the neighbours, until things get a bit bad. Things at school are also not going well, but Georges doesn’t share any of this with his father.

We don’t see much of Georges’ mother because she works double shifts at the hospital. She leaves him messages by way of Scrabble tiles when he sleeps.

Eventually we learn why Safer spies on people, and Georges works out what to do about the situation at school. It is all very American. I don’t think this would work in the UK, and that’s the whole charm of Liar & Spy. I just loved it!

Troublesome cats and other airborne coincidences

I own two books bearing the title Cat’s Cradle. One is Nick Green’s soon to be published final Cat Kin book. The other is by Julia Golding, in her Cat Royal series. No, I lie. I believe I also have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle somewhere.

I don’t mind. If there are only seven original plots, it stands to reason there are only so many book titles as well. Obviously more than seven, but anyway. I doubt Nick or Julia are about to sue each other.

Nicola Morgan has told us about her first novel, Mondays Are Red, which features synesthesia, and its main character Luke. It was published almost simultaneously with Tim Bowler’s Starseeker. Same topic. Same character name. They didn’t sue, either. But when both proceeded to write novels with the fabulous title Apocalypse, one of them changed it. Great minds think alike.

Adèle Geras wrote an adult novel with a similar plot to one by Marika Cobbold. I asked if she knew Marika’s book. She didn’t. It was another of those ‘it must be something in the air or the water’ coincidences. Happens all the time. It’s not plagiarism. Zeitgeist, maybe? (We have to keep in mind the number of plots available in this life.)

When I read Lee Weatherly’s Angel I half thought that she might have been after ‘the next Twilight’ by going for angels instead of vampires. But Lee had the idea 15 years ago, before the world was gripped by vampire fever, and well before all the other angel books we now see in bookshops.

Some writers do jump on bandwagons, because it’s what publishers want. The next wizard, another vampire. And now it’s dystopias. Julie Bertagna barely got the OK for Exodus, because back then dystopias weren’t in. Now they are. And not all of them could possibly have got the idea from reading someone else’s book first.

It takes time to make a book. From author’s idea to bookshop is usually a lengthy process. People don’t plagiarise on a whim. Coincidences happen. Recently I mused about the number of wolves I had reviewed in a short time. There are also several books out now with the name Grimm somewhere in the title.

Coincidence.

What I am working towards here, is a troublesome cat. He is causing considerable concern for Debi Gliori. She has a picture book soon out, featuring a cat in Tobermory. The title will be Tobermory Cat. At least it will be if someone in Tobermory stops being unpleasant about it. Debi, who is one of the kindest and most fairminded people I know, has been accused of all manner of things by the ‘owner’ of the name. Not the owner of the cat, mind you.

The links to this public argument can be found on Wikipedia, so I might as well add them here. Link 1. Link 2Link 3 with a reply from publisher Hugh Andrew of Birlinn. TC even has its own facebook page, but I don’t recommend a trip there if you value your blood pressure levels.

I am really, really against bullying.

Apart from the books and coincidences above, I am reminded of another touristy cat at the opposite end of the country, in another picture book; The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. I imagine that book has not exactly damaged the tourist business for Mousehole. I also imagine this was the idea for Tobermory. The new book could have been called something else. And then the tourists could go there instead.

Co-operation is a good word here. Not that I’d want to co-operate with TC’s ‘owner’ if I had a choice, but before this argument began, just think of the effect they could have had together, for Tobermory.

Could there be more than one Bookwitch? Unfortunately, yes. There are. There were some before I went public, and more have popped up over the five years you and I have known each other. But the point about it is that I sat down and thought long and hard about what to call this blog, and once I’d arrived at the answer, I went online and found I wouldn’t be alone. But I am a Bookwitch, so couldn’t – wouldn’t – have picked another name.

I can co-exist.

Will leave you with one more cat. In fact, I give you a book idea for free. Here is the Linköping Lynx. At this point I must point out I’ve not checked* if there are any other LLs out there.

Linköping Lynx

The more the merrier? Surely one of the seven plots must fit? It’s my firm belief that Lynxes are the next big thing. Remember that some time in 2014 or 2015.

*Oops.

Slated

Slated is the kind of book you need to get back to quickly after a break in reading. Teri Terry has thought up a really unpleasant future England, where they slate (mind-wipe) young people. (Except not enough things are sufficiently far removed from what the future looks like today, if we were to allow certain people to get their way.)

Officially it’s those who have committed crimes that need to be rehabilitated. They are neutralised and then sent home to a new set of parents with a new name, and a smile on their lips.

Creepy.

Teri Terry, Slated

We follow 16-year-old Kyla as she’s released from hospital and see her getting used to ‘normal’ life as a slater. Her father seems nice. Her mother less so. Her new older sister, Amy, is very friendly. After some time her father seems more menacing, while her mother appears friendlier. Amy is mostly smiley.

As for the nurse and the personal helper at school, Kyla doesn’t know what to think. There are new friends to make, and enemies too. There are too many watchful eyes everywhere, and walls might even have ears. This is bad, because Kyla can remember things. She’s not meant to, but she does. Who was she? What crime did she commit?

Slated is a most chilling read about a society that has ways of dealing with delinquents, whether they are slated or terminated (it could be a kindness).

Unfortunately there will be a sequel. It’s unfortunate in that I don’t have all the answers I want yet. You want to believe it’s going to work out, but it’s actually quite hard to feel it will. This book is scarier than it seems at first.

I hope it will set readers thinking critically about what we value. And who gets to decide for us.

Censorship

Seems it’s not only Meg Rosoff who gets uninvited to schools (last year in Bath, in case you’re wondering). Found a link to an article by James Klise in the Chicago Tribune about being invited to speak in a school and then being uninvited again. He is very understanding, and it is easy to see the librarian’s plight. The thing is, if you are inviting on behalf of someone who might take offense, why not check extra carefully before you end up in a pickle?

Keith Gray

Then there was this piece Keith Gray wrote for PEN. As with everything Keith writes, it’s a wonderful and considered keynote address. It’s just a shame that they need to be written at all.

At that point I was thinking there was a lot of coincidental censoring going on. That’s until I discovered it was Banned Books Week. (Is my diminished reading of newspapers beginning to show?) Here is Dead Guy on banned books.

I am obviously against censorship. But then, perhaps writers ought to self-censor certain things before someone has to do it for them? Except in some places it would appear you have the right to do whatever you like.

I’ve got ‘distinguished’ Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård in mind. He put someone he knew (a little) into one of his books, with name and everything. Also the woman’s four-year-old daughter. He didn’t think terribly highly of either of them, apparently, and felt the need to say so in the book. (Min kamp, since you ask. And yes, it does sound pretty similar to another book title I can think of.)

Personally I can’t help feeling his editor or publisher should have sorted him out. But they do things differently in Scandinavia, and who cares whether they are hurting real people?

Bookwitch bites #89

Anyone wants to hire an author? There is a new company called Authors Aloud UK who can put you in touch with one. I suspect they will only do author type stuff, no singing or washing up. It makes sense to have lots of authors under one organisational roof, and it will hopefully prove useful for schools, etc, as well as for authors who don’t mind getting out there.

The capable hands behind this venture are those of Jacqueline Wilson’s lovely publicist Naomi Cooper, along with super librarians Anne Marley and Annie Everall.

2013 will be a Neil Gaiman-y sort of year by the sound of it. He has an adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, coming our way, and quoting from Headline’s press release: ‘a new picture book Chu’s Day will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing at the start of 2013, followed by a children’s book for older readers later in the year. There is the eagerly anticipated prequel mini-series to his seminal comic book series The Sandman.  Neil is also scripting a new episode of Doctor Who to be screened in 2013, having written the multi-award winning 2011 episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’.  Neverwhere is to be dramatised across two platforms on BBC Radio Four and BBC Radio Four Extra in the spring. HBO is developing six seasons of a television version of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel American Gods.’

Phew. I wonder if some of these are things Neil ‘wrote earlier?’ Even he must sleep occasionally.

You might have noticed that J K Rowling has been in the news recently. What you might not have come across is a webcast about Potter-y stuff. It’s rather American, but never mind. They like their romantic Scotland.

One way of – almost – ending up with as lovely a bank balance as Neil’s or J K’s would be to win the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. The longlist (which as far as I know never turns into an official shortlist) was published this week. It’s longer than ever.

Meg Rosoff is on it, and so are 206 others. Many are ‘always’ on the list, and most would be very worthy winners. What I find odd is that along with the well known British names, there are people I’ve never heard of. British ones, I mean. I suppose it’s the judges’ way of doing a mini-Nobel, picking obscure writers.

Sara Paretsky

And if you fancy a more normal competition, there is one on Sara Paretsky’s blog; Where in Chicago Is V I Warshawski? ‘Every Tuesday for the next seven weeks we’ll post a picture on my blog of V I in a different part of Chicago. Guess the right location, and you’ll be entered into a drawing. The winner will get an early copy of the paperback edition of Breakdown, in bookstores on December 4th. The final week, November 20th, will have a grand prize drawing from all of the entries to the quiz (note: there will be no quiz on November 6th, election day. V I expects all Americans to be going to the polls).’

Get guessing, and don’t forget to vote.

Guthrie and MacBride

This is ‘the real sh*t,’ if you’ll pardon my language. Allan Guthrie and Stuart MacBride might have written novels suitable for dyslexic adults, but the books are no more simple or childish, let alone tamer, than their longer counterparts.

I had read one crime novel by Allan Guthrie before, which was depressing and gritty. Excellent, but too bleak for my comfort. Stuart MacBride is new to me, apart from playing the part of Sherlock Holmes during Bloody Scotland recently.

Allan Guthrie, Bye Bye Baby

And unlike their female colleagues whose books I reviewed the other day, I suspect Allan and Stuart simply don’t know the meaning of the word light-hearted. As for happy endings; don’t even go there.

Bye Bye Baby, by Allan Guthrie tells the sad and puzzling story about a missing child. We follow the detective whose job it is to find the boy, and how, due to the abnormal nature of the case, he encounters unforeseen difficulties.

I did get one clue correctly, but not the rest. You just know something isn’t right, but which something, and how not right? Trust me, it won’t make you feel good. (At least I trust it won ‘t.)

Stuart MacBride, Sawbones

Now, Sawbones by Stuart MacBride seemed much more streamlined, in a rough American style kind of way. Lots of foul language and lots of killings, but you sort of expected… Well, you shouldn’t.

As the title suggests, it is not for the fainthearted, and thirty years ago I would have stopped halfway. Sawbones is not your typical serial killer with a saw. Nor is one of his victims, the teenage daughter of a New York gangster, a typical victim.

But it won’t be the way you expect. Whatever you expected. There is a certain charm, hidden deep within the violence and gore. Which doesn’t stop me from feeling relief at the civilised length of these two novels. 100 pages of gruesome is about right.

I can truthfully say that dyslexic adults have some great stuff to look forward to. There should be far more books like these, and they should be much more widely known. Whether or not you find reading hard, you have the right to some good sh*t.