Monthly Archives: June 2013

Max the Champion

Did I ever mention how much I love Ros Asquith’s illustrations? In general, I mean. Well, I do. She can brighten up almost any ‘dire’ situation with her take on how people look. (I miss reading the Guardian Education and her spot-on observations on life in our schools.)

In Max the Champion it is Ros’s pictures that make the book. My sincere apologies to Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick who wrote the words. (You should have chosen a really rubbish illustrator…)

Stockdale, Strick, Asquith, Max the Champion

Max is a crazy, but also completely normal, little boy. He is crazy about sport. He lives and breathes sport, and I do believe there was even sport in his breakfast cereal.

He wakes up, he eats his cereal. He goes to school. He and his classmates do the sorts of things you do at school. Max turns everything into sport. His still life ‘fruitbowl’ full of (sports) balls is quite something.

In the afternoon they do sport at school, and he loves it.

As a reader you are halfway through the book before you realise that’s a hearing aid in Max’s ear. And he’s so excited he’s got his inhaler out. His classmates are also a little ‘different.’ One is in a wheelchair. One has an eye problem.

Apart from Max’s sheer enjoyment as he goes through his day with nothing but sport on his mind, nothing much happens. But that’s fine. We want to see those ‘different’ children behaving just like everyone else.

We shouldn’t need a special book to do so. But we do. Here it is.

Rose Under Fire

The mountains made me cry. But the really hard facts of a WWII concentration camp left me dead calm, despite their awfulness. It was so atrocious that I simply read on, while trying to ignore some of the details. If you stop and think, you couldn’t go on.

The same as for the inmates of Ravensbrück in Elizabeth Wein’s new novel, Rose Under Fire. They just got on with it, in an almost unbelieveable manner. That way, some of them survived until the end of the war.

Starting with a funeral, and going on to a wedding, this story revisits some people and places from Code Name Verity. I like knowing what happened later. (Ideally you should read CNV before embarking on Rose Under Fire. You don’t have to, but you would be cheating yourself out of a most marvellous book if you begin at the end.)

Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire

Although, we know Rose survives the war, because her tale about how she ended up at Ravensbrück actually does start at the end. This is another journal, both similar to and very different from Julie’s diary in CNV. Rose is an 18-year-old American ATA pilot, and her voice is very much that of the surprised American girl who wonders how she ended up starving in a German concentration camp.

Rose is a lovely character, but it is perhaps the European girls and women at Ravensbrück who impress the most. It’s easy to think of them as mere victims, dirty and hungry and looking like walking skeletons. Here you find university professors, continuing their work by educating fellow inmates. The solidarity as people go without (impressive, since there is so little, that to go with less should be impossible) in order to assist with the current plans for helping someone escape, or hide, or any other desperate action forced on them.

This is no Code Name Verity. It would have been impossible to repeat. Rose Under Fire is a very well researched ‘inside a concentration camp’ story. People have to die, or disappear, because it’s what people did. I had heard of the operations performed, but had had no inkling as to what it really meant. I almost prefer not to think about what I’ve learned.

Rose Under Fire is a must read. Elizabeth’s done a great job creating another girl pilot, letting us see war torn Germany from the inside, not to mention the inside of the hole under the floor in the toilets at Ravensbrück.

It’s a love story, even if not in the traditional sense.

Programmes, programmes everywhere

They just keep coming. I am almost beyond even a quick browse. But I will persevere and do my utmost.

First came the Gothenburg Book Fair programme. The full one, in Swedish, which was rather a treat after years of having to get by on the abridged English language programme.

And I find I have changed. I used to look only for English language events, and then preferably children’s authors. There’s been less of them in recent years, and I’ve had so many festivals closer to home, to feed my obsession.

This time I noticed lots of talks on other, related, things. Children’s reading, libraries, stuff in general. Maybe I’m growing up? Anyway, I could see myself going again this year. There is the small matter of cost, not to mention my stamina (hopefully not my lack thereof) and the annoying fact that you have to decide all this well in advance.

But a programme with an event like ‘Dewey – could libraries in 138 countries be wrong?’ It’s tempting, isn’t it? I suspect the answer is ‘yes,’ they can be wrong. After all, 9 million Swedes can’t possibly not be right.

The next programme to pop up was Bloody Scotland. And luckily for this exhausted reader, it’s a short one. I was about to say it’s because it’s only on for three days, but Gothenburg is only four. It’s because it’s a fledgling festival, and anyway, size doesn’t matter.

I found lots of good events in it, and the funny thing is that Daughter, who was most definitely not going to mess up her fresher’s week by attending this year, called to tell me about what she can’t possibly miss. So I might not be as lonely as I had been counting on.

Although,  you can’t go wrong with the lovely Eoin Colfer. (What is so Scottish about him??) Or the very Scottish and lovely Linda Strachan. And then we have all the Swedes and other murderous ‘Nords’ who are also not terribly Scottish. Bloody, though. Lee Child. I don’t know what he counts as, but the ladies will swoon.

My mouth is watering, and I will have to be strict with myself to make sure I don’t attempt too much, again. They’re only two weeks apart, and I can tell already I will be ‘less keen’ when the time comes.

Restraint, witch. Restraint!

Flower of Scotland

Well, not exactly. More flower despite Scotland. That’s where we went last week, and I cursed as I saw how my Bougainvillea was looking its very best. And looking its very best for the first time in years and years.

I’m good at this. Something flowers, and I leave. I then return when whatever flowered is past its best. Or worse. I have a cactus, which is the grandchild of Uncle’s cactus. Cutting taken at Aunt’s 50th birthday party (she very sensibly had her birthday when it flowered so prettily), around 40 years ago. And every year I find I ‘have to’ go away at the wrong time.

When we moved to Bookwitch Towers it was March and not much looked exciting in our new garden. In May we went on holiday for a couple of weeks, and when we returned the Resident IT Consultant thought we lived further down the road, because he certainly didn’t recognise those flowers on the Rhododendron next to the drive…


The Bougainvillea here has its own story. I’d never even seen one before Mother-of-witch was given two of them within a few weeks, back in the early 1970s. She was good with stuff like that, so they flourished. I half absorbed what one was supposed to do with them, despite being a teenager.

After her funeral, 25 years later, I made sure all the guests left with some pot plant or other. But for some reason I hung on to the two Bougainvilleas. Too precious to give away, maybe? So they remained on the kitchen drainer when I left.

I was very surprised to find them still there and doing magnificently the next year. The lady next door had ‘thrown some water at them’ whenever she checked the house. It was my birthday during our visit, and as my guests left, I handed one of the pots to School Friend and the other to Favourite Aunt. That way they continued to flower (and the Bougainvillea did quite well, too…) and everyone was happy.

Sorry. I seem to go on and on about two pot plants.

Five years on, a few days before Favourite Aunt died, I came to see her. I knew she’d never leave hospital again, so I decided to rescue her Bougainvillea there and then, or it would also die, there being no watery type of neighbour on her horizon.

They are prickly, so I cut off all the sticky-out bits with the kitchen scissors. My suitcase was fairly small, but I reckoned it would fit after its ‘haircut.’ The other thing I ‘helped myself to’ was a very old tin, into which I tucked the pot end.

At the airport there was extra security for people flying to England, so the case got some personal X-ray attention. The operator said ‘there is some kind of large metal object in here. What is it?’ ‘An antique cake tin,’ I replied. I didn’t mention the pot plant inside it. All three of us got through. Tin, plant and me.

Ever since the Bougainvillea has done so so. OK, but never great. Until this year, when I had to go and leave it.

Luckily it was almost as nice when I returned home. Or I would have cried. I might have been prepared to see it die 15 years ago, but not now.

The Great Ice-Cream Heist

I really enjoy Elen Caldecott’s books. They are so, well, normal, while still managing to be so exceptional. (I trust that makes perfect sense?)

Elen Caldecott, The Great Ice-Cream Heist

The Great Ice-Cream Heist is no different. To begin with I wasn’t focussing on the ice cream, but then I realised it was more relevant than I had thought. (Clue, it’s in the title.) It’s the Italian background. Think mafia and that kind of thing.

Eva is a very well protected girl. So much so that her gran decides she has to start taking risks, which her dad doesn’t agree with. There is a dead mum, and that is why Eva has to be protected. But, she goes to help with a holiday project in the local park, to meet other children.

She meets Jamie, who comes from a problem family, and who isn’t at all what Eva’s dad wants for her. Jamie is a charmer, slightly naughty, which is where the ice cream plays a part. When Jamie is wrongly accused of vandalism, Eva does her best to help clear his name, and to do so she needs to befriend some of the other children from the park as well.

It’s all rather crazy from then on. Kidnapping and ‘borrowing’ stuff and blackmailing people, but above all making friends and keeping it in the community, and generally achieving results.

This would make for a fun film.

Lots of new books

And some old ones, too. You can never re-issue certain books too many times.

It’s understandable that the publishing world would pick a day like today to publish lots of books. 6th of June has a lovely ring to it. It’s sort of made for books, I’d say.

Originally I was going to review something today, just because it had a 6/6 publishing date. But then I discovered it’d be almost impossible to choose which one. (And I sort of ran out of time, too. I kept working on the May books for longer than I should have. They were good, too. Don’t misunderstand me. But June beats everything.) So I’ll let you have a June book tomorrow. And later.

Terry Pratchett’s publishers have really gone to town today. I’d like to think they had me in mind. But maybe not. Anyway; Terry’s Johnny trilogy is out again, and it is such a fantastic set of stories. I think I sometimes say stupid things such as I like Johnny and the Bomb best, but then I remember that I don’t necessarily, because they are all great, so I won’t say that. At all.

And, Maurice and the rodents are also back, and you just can’t not read it, if you haven’t already.

Theresa Breslin’s Queen Mary book is out in paperback, and Sam Hepburn’s Chasing the Dark is also available now. Andy Mulligan has a new book today (thank you!) and so does Elen Caldecott.

Kate Maryon and Margo Lanagan, likewise. Nicholas Allan. Sean Stockdale, Alexandra Strick and Ros Asquith.

So perhaps it becomes clear why I don’t read all of the books, however excellent and marvellous they are, or seem to be. I will read some, and some I will put in my ‘house arrest’ box. They will be most welcome when the time comes.

Actually, I will leave you today with an almost review. Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart have a new picture book, Just Imagine. It has many very lovely pictures. Naturally. The kind you could sit for hours finding new details in. It has words, too, including the word ‘bewitching.’ Despite that, and despite the fact that there is a witch in the book, I don’t think they have covered just what I’d want; the time to read all the books I would like to read.

Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart, Just Imagine

Just Imagine shows the reader a lot of different scenarios for what or who they could be. Since the book-reading-time thing isn’t on offer, I’ll go for ‘parent-frightening’ which actually sounds quite fun.

Grrrr! (Although that is only if you don’t go out and read one of the books I’ve mentioned. One of the very special 6th June books.)

Margo Lanagan, Yellow Cake

(Or I could scare you with Yellow Cake by Margo Lanagan. It’s a great title. I’m just a little scared of Margo, whose writing is not exactly run of the mill.

The other titles I’ve not mentioned yet are Theresa Breslin – Spy for the Queen of Scots, Kate Maryon – Invisible Girl, Nicholas Allan – The Royal Nappy, Stockdale, Strick and Asquith – Max the Champion, Elen Caldecott – The Great Ice-Cream Heist, Andy Mulligan – The Boy with 2 Heads, Terry Pratchett – The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.)

The Moon and More

No one does summer quite like Sarah Dessen! I have just enjoyed a most eventful and summery kind of holiday in her company, in Sarah’s new book The Moon and More.

This is another one set in Colby, with its fantastic boardwalk and its community where people know each other well. They might not be as rich or as educated or as sophisticated as New Yorkers claim to be, but they have a lot going for them anyway.

Emaline spends the last summer before going to university working for her family’s tourist accommodation company, seeing shirtless pool guy Luke, who as well as being her long-standing boyfriend is a good friend. The blurb suggests that all Emaline has to worry about is whether to stay with Luke, or go for New Yorker Theo who comes to make a film in Colby.

That’s selling Sarah Dessen short, because it’s about so much more, although we obviously do get to root for either Luke or Theo as the romantic complications set in.

To start with, Emaline has both a dad and a father. The father is her biological one, and she has never seen much of him, until now when he comes to stay, bringing her young half-brother Benji.

There’s her mother, and her stepsisters. Her mother wants more for Emaline than she herself got, falling for a summer visitor all those years ago. Then there’s Emaline’s two best friends, the beautiful and hardworking Daisy and the carefree Morris. And the reason for Theo’s film, local artist Clyde, plus many other minor, but captivating, characters.

You can just feel that sand under your feet and the sun on your shoulders, as you drive all over Colby, eating shrimp burgers. It’s not my summer, but it’s pretty close, and that’s why an annual Sarah Dessen story is essential.

I’d like to be a Dessen heroine. And one day I’ll go looking for my Colby boardwalk. Maybe even a shirtless pool guy.

It’s Malorie!

If anyone had asked me who should be the next Children’s Laureate, I’d have said Malorie Blackman. There are many great people out there, but I think Malorie ticks more boxes than most. Not that I believe she actually sits at home ticking boxes. That would be a waste of time.

Malorie is a woman who has many, and sensible, opinions on the kinds of things that matter in the children’s books world. I’m sure she’ll do marvellous work in the next two years.

Malorie Blackman

The rainbow converses are bound to help.


Was it something I said? Didn’t say? Maybe I stepped on the crack somewhere?

I’m sorry.

Well, a bit.

But I would really, really have liked to read – and review – that book I’ve not received. It’s greedy, but it’s the way I am.

So this time I have actually ordered it online, to make sure I have a copy. There are books and/or authors I will clear the decks for completely and read NOW. This is one such book, and author. Except, as you will have gathered, I can’t, bookless as I am.

If this was the first time, I’d be miffed. It’s not, so I’m veering more towards paranoid.

Sorry about that, too.

Magic Ink

Yippee! Another book for young boys! Not many people do this as well as Spiderman (aka Steve Cole) does it. It is sheer pleasure for a witch to find such a childish and fun book that appeals equally much to the mature minds (cough…) of older people.

I used to read a great many comics, back in the day. Then I stopped. Some people never stop, which is why Steve has managed to add fresh ink to an old trade. His heroes, the stupendous Stew Penders, and his righthand pig, Power Pig, are as brave as any muscled wearer of tights have ever been. Braver, in fact, because they are so scared at times.

Forced by his slightly loopy parents to move house, Stew is now living in his late grandfather’s home, along with his annoying sister Lib. He meets a pig late one night, and everything changes. Posho (that’s the pig) speaks quite posh, like he’s 75 years old, or something. ‘I say old boy…’

It appears Stew’s grandfather kept a secret in his attic, and Posho is the least of it. Old Merlin himself was into comics, and he needs to be rescued, and he needs the mighty pen (and ink) of Granddad Penders’s. Or if necessary, Stew’s.

This rescue requires the stock of a nearby supermarket as well as odd bits of underwear, lemons and flying Shetland ponies. And plenty of courage.

Can they do it? Are they Stupendous Man and Power Pig? Yes, they are.

Steve Cole, Magic Ink