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.