Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Christmas Eve Tree

This is not your average tale about your un-average Christmas tree.

Delia Huddy’s story – illustrated by Emily Sutton – tells of the wind-damaged, future Christmas tree. When the time comes, all its pals are bought and put up in various places where they look great. But no one wants this one.

In the end it is given away for free, to a homeless boy. He dresses it as best he can, and that’s when the magic begins. People gather round, there is music and singing, and the little tree is very happy.

Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton, The Christmas Eve Tree

But the end has to come, even for ugly-but-rescued trees, and so it does for our tree. Or does it?

You just never know what will happen.

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Sign here please

There was the case of the unsigned Christmas card on social media the other day. An author felt hurt after receiving a blank card from his/her publisher. And I vaguely recalled hearing something similar last year.

Hours later there was another author reporting an unsigned card, which definitely reminded me I’d heard him/her mentioning last year’s unsigned Christmas greeting.

The following day I heard of a third unsigned card to yet another author.

So it’s clearly not an oversight; one card being missed out in a pile of hundreds. But is it by design, or lack of thinking about it?

My attempt at finding a charitable reason was that it was a job for the temporary, and very young, intern, who simply didn’t realise the cards needed signing. I mean, young people today have probably never sent a paper card. Maybe. Or as the Resident IT Consultant said, it takes a lot of badgering to get ‘everyone’ in the office to sign, and that’s a job best not left to the shy, new intern.

It has now become fairly clear which publisher all three authors were talking about. So it’s definitely not a case of coincidence among all the cards sent by all the publishers to the people on whose work their business relies.

Christmas cards

(The cards above are for illustration purposes only, and are non-booky. And they have been very much signed.)

All of them

‘You must read a lot of books?!’ people say when we meet.

Well, I don’t know. How long is a piece of string? Who am I comparing myself to? You? Them? My own wishes? My past reading habits?

I don’t always count the number of books I read in a year, but I have just done so. 146. Is that a lot? Or perhaps a disappointingly low figure? 37 were picture books, so around a quarter. Eleven non-fiction books and ten adult books; mainly crime.

Quite clearly I am not someone who has a review up every day. Not even every other day. My gut instinct has always told me that I might average three book reviews a week, and that seems to hold. Meaning that four days a week I have to make something up.

Maybe not really. There are events. Perhaps I should count those? (I just did. 44 of my own, plus a few by others.)

Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively and Daniel Hahn

Interviews (4) and the odd guest blog. Eight profiles, and – sadly – five author death announcements.

Actually, 2015 will be more than 146. I still have a few books coming. In contrast, Christmas means much more making stuff up and writing very little, hoping that no one will notice. After all, you are face down in mince pies and turkey stuffing, aren’t you?

That last sentence presumably counts as either one of my opinionated posts, or as one of my ‘musings,’ rather like what I’m doing now.

There are awards, shortlists and longlists, cover images, other photos, travelling. Stuff.

Do I read a lot?

Good, better, best

2015 is a rare year. Its best book happens to be my third best book ever. So no contest as to who sits at the top of the Bookwitch Best of 2015 Books list. It’s

Sally Gardner with her The Door That Led to Where. Among many stunning books, this is the stunningest of them all. The Door That Led to Where is a novel that has it all, to my mind. Just getting it out to look at again as I write this, I feel all twitchy.

It is red. Perhaps that is a sign I can re-read it over Christmas? It’s been almost a year. (And on a different note, I was pleased to see Sally’s book finally reviewed in the Guardian this weekend. High time indeed. And I’m not the only one to think so.)

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

So, now that this obvious choice has been announced, I come to the rest. Eight books stand out as having been that little bit more ‘stand-outy’ than others. They are books that made me feel all warm inside as I read them. (Apart from Helen Grant’s book which made my blood go cold. In a good way.)

These warm ones are, in alphabetical order:

Stephen Davies, Blood & Ink

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

Andrew Norriss, Jessica’s Ghost

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove White Raven

On the longlist were another 25 books, so the tip of the iceberg was pretty big. But the point of a best of list is that it is a litte bit short.

Thank you to all who wrote these, my bestest books of the year. You make a difference.

Stuff You Should Know!

There is a lot I don’t know. Like what the insides of things look like, or how those things with insides work, and any number of other similar facts.

In Stuff You Should Know! by John Farndon and Rob Beattie you can find out. I don’t remember well, either, but will admit that since looking things up, I have thought of how my mobile phone knows what my finger is doing when it dabs or ‘paints’ a line on the glass screen. It appears to be magic, but it seems there is some sensible logic behind it.

I don’t need to know these facts, but I can see that lots of readers would like to. And the younger they are, the likelier it is they will understand and remember. I’m just pleased I can use a food processor. No more is needed.

And the extra long explanation of how a letter makes its way from one end of the globe to another was probably something I did know. Maybe it’s because I’m old. And with a postal past.

John Farndon and Rob Beattie, Stuff You Should Know!

Weather, rubbish* and 3D printers all get an airing in this fascinating book of facts. I wish I was younger! (On the other hand, new-fangled ideas won’t have time to take a hold these days. Someone is bound to invent new stuff before today’s children are very much older.)

It’s still fun.

(*It says rubbish in the British version.)

Badger the magician

I had hoped to finally meet Badger – who is a dog and not a badger – a few weeks ago when he came to Bridge of Allan for Book Week Scotland. But I had another event the same day and no working broom, so decided to leave it.

He’s a clever dog, however, and his ‘owner’ (author?) sent me this video where he shows how you should never give up. It’s enough to make me believe I will have time to write those Christmas cards after all. Perhaps even cook some kind of festive food.

Here is his Badgical Magical Day:

Badger does have a way with flowers. Achoo..!

(I reckon it’s the spotty scarf. The magic. Not the sneezing.)

The Fall

I confess. I’ve had a run on the various Barrington Stoke books I’ve been sent.

They are easy to read. True. After all, that’s their purpose in life. But, on average, they are also better than many other books. Length isn’t everything, you know. So I don’t consider it cheating when I binge-read Barrington Stoke. It’s a case of reading one and then needing to continue because it was that good, and you want all the others as well. Immediately.

Recently, Anthony McGowan has provided us with two award quality stories about two brothers, in Brock and Pike. Here he is again, with a third marvellous ‘boy’ read.

Anthony McGowan, The Fall

The Fall is much bleaker than the other two. Just as excellent, but it leaves you wondering, thinking about life and how it turns out. What you did wrong, and if it could have been different if you’d only…

Set, I believe, exactly where the young Anthony was once a teenage boy in a bleak area. You can tell you are in expert hands. He knows the place, and he knows the boys. Was he one of them? I don’t know.

He knows about being a loser, and how being with someone slightly cooler can save you. He knows how the slightest thing could mark someone out as ‘the lowest of the low.’

That’s what The Fall is about. A group of boys in Y9 at the bad school in town. They stay out of the way of the bully as best they can. Luckily for them there is another, so hopeless that he will take all the attention and suffer in their place. So they ought to be nice to him, oughtn’t they?

Seriously good, but pretty unforgiving. It’s life.