Monthly Archives: January 2014


After being introduced to Eleanor Updale over four years ago, I vowed to find out about Montmorency. As you do. But reality kept me in check, and when I was provided with one of Eleanor’s new books, I read that instead. And then last year there was another brand new one, and poor Montmorency slipped further into my black reading hole.

Until… just last week, in fact. Eleanor wrote to tell me she’s not only got back ownership of all four Montmorency books, but she has done what fans have been clamouring for, and written a fifth book, finally rescuing the man from the cliff he has been hanging from for some years.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency - 3 covers

And would I like to read Montmorency Returns? Well, yes. But perhaps I ought to find out who he is by starting at the beginning, and that is what I’ve done. I told myself that reading the first book might be enough background, because to read all four very quickly, seemed a tall order. Only, I believe I will have to locate books two, three and four as well. If only to ascertain what kind of cliff-hanger, and to feel I’m up to speed on everything. Plus the small matter of my enjoyment.

Halfway through Montmorency I wanted to stop. Eleanor had done that thing again, where I am so worried I’m absolutely certain I can’t go on. I knew she’d have to do something bad to Montmorency, and I didn’t want to see it being done.

It’s curious, really. I shouldn’t cheer a thief on, or care what happens to him. The other thing is, the book has no child characters at all. Montmorency is an adult, and so are all the people he consorts with, in and out of jail. That doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘young’ book. It is, in much the same way as my childhood classics often were about adults, but written in a way that would attract younger readers.

Montmorency is a kind of Arsène Lupin; a gentleman thief, in Victorian London. Because he has to live off something. It’s fascinating to see how prisoner 493 spends time in jail, and how he plans what to do if and when he is free again, and then how he starts off once he does get out.

It involves sewers, and these ones are smellier and generally yuckier than the ones in Terry Pratchett’s Dodger. But it’s the same principle.

In the end Montmorency copes well with what the author throws at him, and I was able to continue. Did I mention I might have to read them all?


In case you need a book

Last year an author facebook friend described a long train journey she’d just made. On her train was a young child, whose parents had not thought to bring anything at all to entertain their child with, and who told their daughter off for whining.

After a while the child came and sat next to FF and asked to have stories from her book (which I think was an adult one). Luckily FF is an author, so was the right kind of person to make stories up on the spot. The child was happy, FF was annoyed with the parents, and they clearly had no thought of stranger danger. No need to, with FF, but they couldn’t know that.

It was lucky that this didn’t happen to me. I’m not good with children at the best of times, and as for improvising and making my adult noir into something child friendly, I doubt I’d be able to.

But I’d want to.

You can’t really tell perfect strangers to buy books for their children. Or borrow them from the library. I suppose that if you had a conversation with them, you could casually mention how useful you find books on journeys. Hint, hint.

I always carry reserves of ‘everything;’ food, books, cardigans, umbrellas. For me. But I’m thinking that there is little – except sheer size and weight of luggage –  to stop me from travelling with reserve reading material for children. I am well placed for it, seeing as most of the time I tend to have a few books I don’t need. I really could take books out with me with the intention of giving them to someone who needs them. Sort of World Book Day every day.

Would you let your child receive a book from a strange witch? How is it different from handing out sweets with an ulterior motive? And if it worked, what to do if another child sees you and wants one too?

No, I think I shall continue frowning, and looking downright unfriendly and unapproachable. It’s worked fine for years.

A most loveable squirtel

That should read squirrel, except his spelling isn’t totally perfect. But at least he types, so you can find out what Ulysses (that’s his name) is thinking. Which is more than you can say for Mary Ann, Flora’s mother’s favourite lamp. Does it type? No, it does not. Obviously.

Kate DiCamillo and K G Campbell, Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – with the most adorable illustrations by K G Campbell – is about love (which is like a giant doughnut, with sprinkles). Or something.

It is virtually impossible to describe. There’s the dreadful shepherdess lamp. There are the neighbours, whose accident with a new hoover is almost the end of poor little Ulysses, the squirrel. But he rises from the ashes, I mean the hoover, and he is mightier than ever before. He is a super-squirrel.

Kate DiCamillo and K G Campbell, Flora & Ulysses

Flora Belle is actually quite a lonely girl, which will be why she takes so to the almost dead squirrel. Her father’s been kicked out and her mother loves her lamp, and writes romances.

I was most impressed with Flora’s poetry reading neighbour Mrs Tickham, aka Tootie. I’m happy when the most unlikely people become allies, and Tootie beats many unlikelies.

In short, Flora’s mother doesn’t care for Ulysses and wants him dead and gone. Flora and Tootie and a few more memorable characters try to keep him safe and happy. There are the doughnuts, the fierce cat, the charming doctor and Tootie’s temporarily blind great-nephew.

Flora & Ulysses is the best kind of middle grade (as I think they call it over there) book. You can’t guess where it is going, but you know it’s somewhere you want to go. Especially if there are typing squirtels involved.

(I began reading Flora & Ulysses on Monday; the day Bookwitch featured Linda Newbery’s latest book. It was also the day Kate DiCamillo won her second Newbery medal, for this perfect little squirrel book. I like patterns.)

Icy – or maybe not

Apparently it wasn’t ‘cold enough.’ Iceland, I mean. I think it’s a trick they play on outsiders, who believe the name of the country means it’s a mini-Greenland. (It’s more the reverse; Iceland is green and Greenland is icy.)

Footprint in snow

But still, children – I mean, young people – will be children (young people). Walking barefoot in the snow. I ask you.


In fact, from the photos I’ve seen, it appears the Iceland travellers kept jumping into tubs of water everywhere. Frolicking next to ice and snow, and green bits.


It was beautiful, or so I’ve been told. It looks very nice (as long as I’m not the one on those icy paths), and there was less need for all the warm clothing brought. Better that, though, than the opposite.


They walked among icy wildernesses, and they shopped and dined in relative civilisation.


And they ran around the ‘garden’ in swimming trunks in the snow. Below is my volunteer poster boy GG looking at what is most likely falling snow. Not stars. Astronomers know these things.

Snow? Stars?

Tilly’s Promise

Would that going to war as a soldier were as hard for someone with special needs as it is for them to read books about war. But we know from Private Peaceful that this was not the case, and here Linda Newbery gives us her version of WWI and those who should have been allowed not to be sent out at all.

Linda Newbery, Tilly's Promise

Linda has written this dyslexia friendly book for Barrington Stoke, the first one out this year of remembering 1914 and all that came after. Tilly’s Promise is very much a similar story to what Linda has already written about for able readers, and it’s good to see that this can now be made available for others as well.

Tilly and her sweetheart Harry promise to be true to each other as first he goes to war, and then she joins as a nurse. But what it is mainly about is Harry’s enforced promise to look out for Tilly’s ‘simple’ brother Georgie, once he is made to join up as well.

The inspiration for Georgie came from a Siegfred Sassoon poem, and like Linda’s other WWI novels, it’s losely based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.

This is of necessity a short book, but all the suffering and the real history of war is in here. I don’t like the need for these remembrance books, but it’s there if you want to find out more. One of the things Tilly learned was that the Germans were the same as the British. No monsters.

(Beautifully embroidered cover by Stewart Easton.)

The Demons of Ghent – the cover

You saw it here first! ‘It’ being the cover of Helen Grant’s next book, the second instalment in her Forbidden Spaces trilogy. Helen is very happy with it. The cover, I mean. But presumably also with her book, which we will have to wait another 129 days for. Personally, I think I might find it a bit hard.

Helen Grant, Demons of Ghent

The cover is beautifully sinister, which reminds me that her books are actually quite scary. In The Demons of Ghent, I will expect our heroine Veerle getting up to more inadvisable things, only this time in the lovely old city of Ghent. I love it when creepy stuff happens in ‘beautiful old churches, castles and guildhouses.’

From behind the sofa, obviously. But still.

Bring on June 5th! (At least it’s the day before a certain person’s birthday, which shows some consideration for what’s right and proper.)


In the absence of a note from Mother-of-witch, I shall briefly mention the medicinal Coke.

(In other words, whereas the dog – which I don’t have – didn’t eat my homework, I am under the weather.)

A couple of years ago when Son brought some Indian gastroenteritis home and shared it generously, I decided that to avoid having to send the wellest member of the family to the shops for some Coke in times of distress, it would be a good idea to keep some at home. Purely for medicinal purposes.

So we did. We do. No need for it during the 22 months or so since that time. Until Friday morning. I was pleased to remember it. I was less pleased to remember it’s actually been stored in the cellar (like a good wine…). And I was doing the unwell home alone.

I pondered phoning the neighbours and asking if they felt like making a visit to my cellar, but in the end I came to the conclusion that the explaining might take as much out of me as that trip downstairs. So I walked down, taking great care and swearing a little and promising that in future I will store the medicinal Coke in my wardrobe. With a glass.

Have to say that I improved much more speedily once I had ingested a few mugs of the vile stuff (like medicine should be).

And whereas I’m better, I do not have the brain capacity to actually blog.



As a topic for a novel, adoption scares me. Especially if like in Keren David’s new book Salvage, you have one sibling adopted by wealthy, successful people and the other sibling put into care. You just feel it can’t end well.

Keren David, Salvage

Starting well (ish) with 18-year-old unadopted Aidan finally finding his two year younger sister Cass, by fluke, it goes downhill as they take a good look at what happened in the past, and what might happen now, before there is a resolution.

Because this is what Keren does really well. She makes a bad situation as good as it can get, without resorting to ridiculous happy ever afters. I must remember this, and trust her.

Here Keren has looked at what might happen in the kind of families that almost are the norm these days. Half-siblings with their different parents, and young mothers who try their best in the face of violent partners, and social workers who do both good and sometimes bad.

Cass is the daughter of a cheating MP, so is facing upheaval within her adopted family. Her younger brother is unhappy at school and has no friends. The most desirable boy in the sixth form takes an interest in Cass, and Aidan contacts her out of the blue.

This could so easily go wrong – as a novel, I mean – but it doesn’t. Read and enjoy.

Put off

The Hardened Librarian (she’s really Den luttrade bibliotekarien) was blogging about what put her off reading when she was at school. It’s a relief to hear that others – even librarians – feel like that. I know I was certainly put off some books, and authors, by well-meaning teachers.

To some extent ‘all’ Swedish literature got to me. But as with so many things when you are growing up, you don’t know that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal. I must have assumed that in becoming an almost adult I simply had to read adult and ‘proper’ literature, and by definition it would be, if not boring, then not as riveting as it ought to.

Why should it be natural to move from exciting books at twelve, to adult boredom at 14? We’ve already established that in my day we had none of the YA. Hence the sudden move to adult classics. I wonder if (Swedish) schools today serve up more teen oriented reading material? Or do teachers pick adult books because they have forgotten already? Or because it’s the only ‘right’ thing to do?

John Steinbeck, Pärlan

I believe THL and I must be about the same age. We both read, and liked, Nevil Shute and John Steinbeck. Note that these two authors lack in Swedish-ness. I have never read many adult Swedish books. But I have friends who did, and do. I even have friends in the UK, leading English-speaking lives, but who wouldn’t dream of reading in English. Me, I always felt I was destined to come here, and to read books in my other language.

A few years ago when I interviewed Tim Bowler, he mentioned his favourite Swedish writers, and I didn’t dare admit that I didn’t agree with him. (Sorry!) Maybe I should get Tim and THL in the same room and they could discuss Pär Lagerkvist. Could be interesting.

The stupid thing is that I was so taken by the idea that I had grown up that I continued reading all this adult, but oh-so-boring stuff. I wonder why? Just think what fun I could have had in better company.

What puts English speaking teenagers off? At least many of the classics – albeit long – are reasonably interesting and readable. Though I’m grateful I saved Austen & Co until my twenties. I suspect I was more receptive to lengthy romances by then.

In the UK it seems to be customary to know which football team people, including your teachers, support. I think I can do a literary sort of line through my various teachers, showing the favourite author for each of them. When Heinrich Böll was awarded the Nobel, I read his most recent book. My German teacher adored Böll. I read several of his books. I am fairly sure I didn’t like any of them. Why did I do it?

I suppose it’s a good idea to try new writers, and not be too prejudiced. But to continue the punishment once you’ve established you don’t like someone’s writing, strikes me as madness.


Here I was, ready to have a go at what they’ve done to The Musketeers, and then it struck me that it was on at nine pm, and not at half past six on a Saturday. It’s intended for adult consumption. Hardly surprising the ladies on facebook were sighing with delight over the handsome ‘young’ men in The Three Musketeers. Except it’s called The Musketeers, and is only ‘based on the characters’ of Alexandre Dumas.

So that’s all right. They can do what they want with them. And they have. If I hadn’t read – and actually remembered – the books, I would have no complaints. Other than it being rather 21st century in spirit. But if that’s what viewers want, it’s what viewers get. Enough swash was buckled and it was an excellent action film/episode/whatever you call it.

How I loved my Musketeers! The real ones, that is. For 25 minutes every Saturday evening Swedish children had something good to watch. It was usually British dramatisations of classic novels. We thought it was great. (Well, we didn’t have much else.) I lived and breathed Musketeers. I quite fancied being Milady. I drew Musketeery clothes for my paper dolls. I was in heaven when I found a ring that looked like you could keep poison in it, just like they did on television.

The Three Musketeers, 1966

The television series started me reading all the books, and in this case I really read everything I could lay my hands on. It’s good if you get a push like that, trying a book you’d never have noticed otherwise.

Is there anybody old out there? Someone who can tell me if there was a slightly earlier television version of The Three Musketeers than the 1966 one? I want it to have been a couple of years before. But I suppose it was that one. I have no recollection of Jeremy Brett as d’Artagnan, but I remember what Constance Bonacieux looked like. And it’s definitely Kathleen Breck.

So, anyway, what with the more mature ladies getting the hots for whatever Musketeer took their fancy last Sunday, I presume it’s fairly unlikely that younger people – real children – will look out a copy of The Three Musketeers and read it? I’d been so pleased we were due more televised Musketeers, because I thought there’d be a reading revival.

Me, I’m off to fantasise about Cardinal Richelieu. He’s the only one old enough for me, this time round. Or possibly Captain Treville.

Dumas can’t have had an inkling of what later generations could, and would, do to his action heroes.