Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Door That Led To Where

Whenever there is a new Sally Gardner book out, I just know it’s the best she has written. Same this time, with The Door That Led To Where, which features time travel, and is set in the part of London where Sally grew up. Thanks to the time travelling, she also manages to fit in almost-Dickensian London, which is something she knows a lot about.

Both these factors explain why the novel works so beautifully, on so many levels.

It begins with, if not bullying at home, then some serious discord between poor AJ and his single mum. He has achieved exactly one GCSE (but at least he got an A*) and his mum is fed up and sends him out to get a job. And what a job! He ends up as baby clerk at a law firm in Gray’s Inn.

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

And that’s where the trouble starts; AJ discovers a key with his name on, and it leads to London in 1830, and it’s a fascinating place. Dangerous, but no more so than AJ’s modern London. He and his two best friends are forever getting into serious scrapes with people, and being able to escape to an older London seems ideal.

Except, that also has its problems. The three of them need to decide where to stay, and they must sort out some time travelling problems that have escalated over the centuries.

Sally deals with both modern social problems and 19th century crime as though she was born to it. And that’s the thing. She is the most wonderful of storytellers, and she spins fantastic yarns and makes it all appear totally plausible. I believe I’ve finally worked out how she does it; Sally is a time traveller. She has been to old London, as well as living in the city we know now. It’s the only explanation.

This is one of the best books I’ve read.

And the cover in its simplicity is fiendishly clever and attractive.

Noah’s Ark

This beautiful pop-up book by Francesca Crespi would have made for the perfect Christmas present (except I ran out of review time in the run-up to the big day). But if – like me – you have a birthday child in January, now is good too. And if you haven’t, I have to say that any day would be a good day.

I don’t often see pop-up books these days, so that might be why I feel a bit excited. It was always such a treat to ‘read’ one to Offspring back in the day. You could open up those pages so many times, and it never got boring. The main threat was always that the popping-up aspect would die a violent death at some point.

Francesca Crespi, Noah's Ark

Noah’s Ark begins with God despairing over the ways of the world, and that is still far too true. So Noah builds a boat (there’s even a ‘working’ saw!). And then he collects the animals.

And it rains. It rains some more. When it’s finally dry, the ark has run aground and is sitting on top of a mountain. After which they all live happily ever after.

(Although, I reckon the time has come for some more ark-building…)

Jane of Lantern Hill

Bullying is always bad, but I particularly dislike bullying within the home. Home should be safe. Strangers may be horrible to you, but not your ‘nearest and dearest.’

There is some quite ‘refined’ bullying happening at 60 Gay (yes, really) in L M Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill. 11-year-old Jane is not loved by her fearsome grandmother. Presumably because her father was the wrong kind of father. Jane’s mother loves her, but is unable to stand up to her own mother, and is actually bullied herself, by this unpleasant, rich woman who rules over them all.

L M Montgomery, Jane of Lantern Hill

Having believed her father is dead, it is quite a shock to find he is not, and more so when her father sends for her to come and spend the summer on Prince Edward Island. Despite being so unhappy at home, Jane desperately wants to avoid going. But as soon as she arrives on PEI, the story turns into – more or less – Anne of Green Gables.

Her new Aunt Irene proves to be a meddlesome woman, second only to grandmother in being cruel while calling Jane ‘lovey’ and pretending she adores her. But the minute Jane meets her dad, she loves him and they are kindred spirits and everything is sweet, in that well known PEI way.

Set in the early 1930s, it’s more modern than Anne, with cars and phones, but still very rural and basic. After a wonderful three months, Jane has to return to Toronto and 60 Gay, where the people are as bad as they always were, but Jane herself has changed and can – almost – deal with it.

I find it difficult understanding Jane’s mother, while it’s easier to see where the grandmother is coming from. And reading this from the cynical 21st century, it’s a little hard to shake off another interpretation of Jane’s dad’s behaviour. You do know though, that being an L M Montgomery story it will be – mostly – fine.

This is a tale about home and love. It’s about the perfect house, and loving people, and how it is so much easier to love when you are not constantly put down, but surrounded by kind people who like you. People who believe in giving you snacks to ‘line your stomach’ with. In case you get hungry between meals.

And it was a treat to be introduced to another L M Montgomery, after all these years. Although I don’t suppose I can ask her about a detail that I wondered about…

Resolutions

So what are you doing in the way of New Year’s resolutions? Losing weight? Going to the gym (more often)?

I know I should. But I’m so mature I know there is no point in resoluting. Still hope that one day I will surprise myself – in a positive way.

Starting a blog feels a funny* NY resolution, but I suspect it’s a fairly common one. And once people have done this, they look for other blogs to follow. Like this excellent one I’ve heard so much about; Bookwitch.

Every day my inbox tells me about more new followers. As I delete the messages I catch a glimpse of who they are. Or at least, seem to be, judging by their blogging names and the sample blog posts these emails list.

What strikes me is how little we appear to have in common. But then I don’t suppose ‘my biggest fans’ need to be into books at all. Exercise and diet and religion and philosophy is fine. Nice to meet you!

There could, of course, be an ulterior motive for the followings. The belief, or hope, that they will become visible here and will automatically gain my readers (which I reckon would only work if we are quite similar) for their own. Or that I will reciprocate. I know, somewhere in blogging etiquette it says you should. But with every Tom, Dick and Harry having New Year’s resolutions, politeness has to take a step back. I barely have time to follow my old favourites.

If it’s a good blog, I hope it works better than the diet. Or the jogging.

*By that I mean that it’s as though blogging is something you do because it’d be good for you. Not for fun, or to satisfy some urge to write. It has been fun for me, which is more than you can say for the diets.

A wee bit woolly

I went to warm up my feet the other day. My intention was to buy wool for more warm socks. Our new home town is that strange creature; a town with a wool shop, which not only exists, but which is large and well stocked.

I’d been before, at which point I’d made a mistake, so this time I wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same one again. Under my breath I muttered the words ‘I want 4 ply’ and ‘4 ply is thinner than double knitting.’ I mean, how illogical is it that the number four is thinner than something that implies two whatsits?

So last time I got the DK wool. It was wrong. I almost bought more DK this time, despite my mutterings. It just cries out and wants to be bought, does DK.

I wanted pink 4 ply. It was hard to find all wool pink 4 ply. Pink is for babies. Not my feet. And babies do not want all wool. Itchy. So I went to assistant and asked. He was a he, and fairly young. He immediately found me a female helper. She in turn had to ask someone one else.

The wool she pointed me to was a mix, so I said I was looking for wool. ‘Oh, as in all wool?’ she asked. That’s when I realised that wool* to her mind didn’t mean a yarn 100% from a sheep. It simply meant yarn. Could be acrylic, or cotton, or whatever. And once we’d established that, it was easier to work out there was very little 100% ex-sheep yarn in pink. Unless DK, obviously.

But I did find one I liked, and then it dawned on me that I had made three people work hard at helping me, and I was intending to buy only one ball of wool…

I’ll work out a script next time. Probably also get a label that says ‘No DK!’ to stick on my forehead.

*In Swedish we say ‘ull’ for the sheep product, and ‘garn’ for yarn. I can’t help it if it’s all wool here! Except when it isn’t.

The Devil’s Angel

I mentioned Kevin Brooks and his new book with Barrington Stoke some months ago. It’s great that they invite and are accepted by all these good, mainstream authors. Luckily it seems that both sides consider it an honour to be working with the other. That’s the best way.

Kevin Brooks, The Devil's Angel

The Devil’s Angel is as scarily bleak as Kevin’s other writing leads you to expect. To be perfectly honest, it is not my kind of thing. At all. I prefer a rosier outlook on life, but recognise that this will appeal to countless teenagers, and I can’t see why dyslexics should be any different in that respect.

This is good stuff if you want edgy fiction. As described on the cover, The Devil’s Angel is about Dean, who ‘just walked into the classroom. Sat down. Smiled. Then beat another kid to a pulp.’

Dean befriends the fairly average John and they have an unusual and unforgettable summer, doing the kinds of things we parents would prefer teenagers not to do.

It can’t end well.

Gun Street Girl

Finding Adrian McKinty’s Gun Street Girl – his fourth Sean Duffy novel – in the post was like Christmas coming early. It was unexpected, and all the more wonderful for it. I would like to think it’s still not the last Duffy, but couldn’t say, other than he doesn’t die…

Gun Street Girl is Belfast in 1985, and I’d forgotten most of the big news, like the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and a couple of other ones that help make up the plot, so I won’t name them. But it’s so incredibly interesting to read about it ‘from the inside’ as it were, even if Adrian is helped by hindsight, since we now know how things developed afterwards.

Adrian McKinty, Gun Street Girl

A double murder followed by the – maybe – suicide by the murderer, and another death and some more attempts to kill is enough to make Sean want to solve the crime he can see while others don’t want to meddle too much. They have a new boss in Carrickfergus, as well as two brand new detectives, who are thrust into the mayhem as they learn on the job.

Sean seems lonelier than before. There is a hilarious chapter when he tries a dating service (seems no one wants to get romantically involved with a – possibly – shortlived police officer).

Gerry Adams is back in a cameo, Thatcher is pulling strings in the background and those pesky Americans think they are the boss. (They probably are.)

Gun-running, politics, love and murder. You can’t ask for more when it’s Adrian doing the writing. Personally I want more Duffy, but maybe he has been beaten up too many times for that to be likely. And I was going to say that perhaps it’s not good for me to have all I want, but I felt fantastic reading Gun Street Girl. Just saying.

Depressingly familiar

The Resident IT Consultant suggested we watch a Swedish film (because us dinosaurs have now got access to Netflix), but no, not that kind of Swedish film. He had read a review of it and thought it sounded good.

I lasted half an hour before I asked to be excused. It was simply too painful to watch. While I’m not claiming to have led a life like the girls in the film, it still felt very close to home in a not-so-good way, and to me it wasn’t entertainment. It was revisiting days I’m relieved are over. The characters in the story were not my kind people.

A day or so later, I was scanning the book reviews in my Vi magazine. They are generally never for books that I know (of) so unless the actual writing of the review is riveting, I tend not to spend time on reading them.

But what hit me was much the same feeling as I’d had with the film. I’m glad I’m no longer part of the kind of life that features in these often highly praised novels (all adult books). Somehow it just feels very alien. I like nice, and I like familiar. If I’m to step on to new ground, it has to be the best of new grounds.

Even the new non-fiction collection from Henning Mankell failed to interest me. Perhaps it’s because they made much of his illness, which is depressing. I don’t know what his health is like right now, but assume that the Swedish press have got it covered. The one story that is mentioned in the review is about a ‘leaving’ in Salamanca, of all places. And I have one of my own, so didn’t need reminding.

Sorry to sound so grumpy. I reckon that Britain was just waiting for me. I like the books here better. Or is that because I didn’t go to school here? Not so much for me to cringe over. I don’t know. But thank you for putting up with me.

YAY! YA+

And they have gone live! I might have whispered about Kirkland Ciccone’s grand YA plans before, but now the website is publicly available and it’s actually got stuff on it. Not too much dust yet, either.

Kirkland Ciccone

We can’t let London have all the fun, and not even Edinburgh or Glasgow. It makes sense to take Scotland’s first YA festival to Cumbernauld. It’s where it’s all happening. (Secretly I’m hoping for Craig Ferguson.)

Keith Charters

But if I can’t have Craig, then Kirkland has put together a lovely list of YA authors from, or living in, Scotland. They are Catherine MacPhail, Linda Strachan, Barry Hutchison, Theresa Breslin, Keith Charters, Matt Cartney, Victoria Campbell, Lari Don, Roy Gill and Alex Nye. As well as Kirkie himself. There could have been more names on the list, and by this I mean that there are more YA authors in Scotland. Many more. Some were busy. And then I gather Kirkie and his Cumbernauld theatre venue ran out of space. (The answer would be a second day… Or a third.)

Theresa Breslin

The day we do have is April 24th and I’m so looking forward to it. I have demanded to revert to being 14 again. If that’s not possible, I’ll have a press pass (which will probably be home made by Kirkie, but hey, as long as it gets me in).

This time round it will be for schools only. It’s a good way to start, and will mean larger audiences than the old-fashioned way with organic ticket-buying individuals. But I would say that if you are of the organic persuasion, I’d pester. Like crazy. Or there is always gate-crashing.

Linda Strachan

I’m quietly hoping this Yay! YA+ will be a success, and that it will grow into something big, and regular. Because, as I said, we have lots more authors were these came from. This year’s list contains lots of my favourites, and erm, no one that I hate, plus a couple of unknowns (to me).

So that’s all pretty good.

Cat Magick

Di Toft’s Cat Magick is the perfect book for readers who like talking cats. And witches. (But then, who doesn’t?)

Pye is a cat prince, and he meets up with witch-to-be Suki under dramatic circumstances. Life in England post-Cromwell is not good for either cats or witches. They are blamed for causing the plague, and are caught and strung up at the nearest tree.

Di Toft, Cat Magick

Talking cats are obviously more suspect than most, but Pye is such a chatty boy that it’s hard for him to shut up. However, he is brave(-ish) and cares for Suki and he wants to help her, and also the country. Possibly. He needs a little urging to do the right thing, but he is  brave.

The hellcats are a problem and so is dark magic. The rat population is growing rapidly, until we have rats who have never seen a cat, and are not scared of them.

So the question is; how are Suki and Pye going to solve the problem of this hate campaign against them, and the little matter of them being caught by some nasty creatures?

Read Cat Magick and find out. It’s quite interesting to see how a small (cat-) tweak of real history brings home so much better what it was like back then.