Monthly Archives: March 2016

Too Many Carrots

You don’t have to love carrots to like this book, unlike its main character Rabbit who loves carrots. He loves them so much that it becomes a serious problem. (No risk of that happening to me.)

Katy Hudson, Too Many Carrots

Katy Hudson’s Too Many Carrots is lovely. It’s also full of carrots. So is Rabbit’s home, the hole in the ground where he lives. Or tries to live. Because his love of carrots makes him collect them, rather than just eat them, as is common among carrot-lovers.

And one day there is no Rabbit-space left in his carrot-collection. Nowhere to sleep. He tries moving in with various of his friends, with disastrous results, since he takes the carrots with him.

There is only one thing for it…

Very sweet – and orange – little story.

Book of Lies

Teri Terry, Book of Lies

The end is rather disturbing to my mind. But then, the Resident IT Consultant is always saying twins are trouble. Teri Terry’s Book of Lies features a pair of twins as the main characters. Twins who have not met before the first chapter of the book, when they are 17. And after that there is plenty of trouble.

Quinn and Piper were separated soon after birth, and the odd thing is that Piper was brought up by their mum in Winchester, while Quinn lived with her witch of a gran on Dartmoor. They look exactly the same, and they have shared experiences from when they grew up, even if it was separately.

Now, their mum has died in an accident and their gran has had a stroke and is in hospital. So they meet, and… well, let’s say that one of them is much nicer than the other. Apparently they were separated because gran the witch knew one of them was trouble and she was trying to save the situation somehow. But who is the dark twin?

There is a nice dad, and Piper has a lovely boyfriend, Zak, who is too good to be true. Too mature, anyway.

Each girl wants to sample the life her sister has lived, and there is a fair bit of upset over this. There is an inheritance, which one of them wants more than anything. Inevitably they all end up on the dark moors, far from everywhere else, with no electricity and ‘hounds’ hunting at night.

Very atmospheric and quite alarming. You sort of wonder how this could ever be right, and how it will end. Not as you think it will, is the answer. Nor the other way.

Exciting and scary, and plenty of witchcraft to satisfy.

Retired Roger

About eight years ago I wrote this blog for the Guardian Music. (Yes, imagine that. A Bookwitch on music…)

Roger Whittaker, blue light

‘He’s the greatest singer in the world, so why do so few people in Britain appreciate Roger Whittaker?

I still remember the New Year’s Eve party some years ago, where another guest inquired about my Christmas presents. She perked up when I mentioned a CD. “Which one?” “Roger Whittaker.” My friend was about to offer her condolences, when she suddenly pulled herself together and said, “Did you actually want it?” “Yes.” “Oh, well. I believe my parents-in-law like him.”

I have loved Roger’s voice since I was twelve. I used to feel that he’d get away with singing from the telephone directory, if necessary. Luckily he hasn’t had to resort to that.’

And here we leave the Guardian blog post, because it actually gets too confusing, with so many years in between. I just wanted to share him with you today, on his 80th birthday, when he is well and truly retired. No more concerts. Probably no more albums. There is a new one just out, but it’s 98% rehash of old hits; the German hits.

They are not the best, because all Roger has done has been ‘the best’ in my opinion, but the German stuff is good. Very good, as well as a bit different from the usual English language easy listening. Back to the Guardian post again:

‘The Germans really do know how to love their stars. Enormous, sold out venues, with people of all ages going mad, singing and dancing in the aisles. I took my teenagers along last year, and their reaction was simply that they needed a few more Roger Whittaker tracks for their iPods. Seriously uncool, but there’s nothing quite like Ein Bisschen Aroma, especially live.’

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

That was 2007. I went again with Daughter in 2009 and with Son in 2011, and then had to skip the very last farewell tour in 2013 because it clashed with something. On neither occasion did I have to twist any young arms to come with me.

Roger Whittaker concert

When I was twelve I thought Roger was dreadfully old (he was 32). Since then he’s just got younger, relatively speaking. Retiring at 77 was certainly not too early, and I hope he has many more years of ‘living happily in France’ as his agent put it to me a few weeks ago, with plenty of time to not fall over his dog (Roger’s been accident-prone over the years) or worry his wife too much (he had to go through with the last tour despite ill health, as he was too old to insure…).

Us fans still have the hundreds of albums Roger recorded over fifty years, and let me tell you, he’s not boring or purely parents-in-law material!

Right, that’s me done for today. As you were. Might be back to books tomorrow if you are lucky. I only have one favourite singer, after all.

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Photos Helen Giles and Ian Giles

(And another thing; as I looked at the video link, I discovered a Facebook friend standing practically with his chin resting on the stage. It’s the RW universe.)

The hypothenuse

Last week Aunt Ochiltree moved into Aunt Scarborough’s flat. Well, Aunt Scarborough had moved out first. They’re not sharing. But it made sense, since one of them was leaving town and the other was looking for somewhere more – shall we say – age-friendly. And it’s got a great view from the living room window. It’s the kind of spot where you can just sit and watch.

We’d promised to help, and the Resident IT Consultant went overe there nice and early to intercept any removal vans that might turn up. I followed ten minutes later, arriving as he and Aunt Ochiltree were sizing up the spare bedroom to make sure everything would fit. They’d just got to the point where they agreed that the hypothenuse meant it would be all right.

As you do. I have moved a lot and I have measured stuff, but I have never sought solace in the hypothenuse.

Aunt Ochiltree and I then watched as the removal men carried and the Resident IT Consultant and his cousin Sailor unpacked the kitchenware, trying not to break things. After which we allowed poor Sailor to make us lunch, before we did any ‘more’ work.

I was given the book boxes to do, and in the end I slit them open and unpacked the books, leaving Aunt Ochiltree to decide where they went. I don’t know her books at all, so felt this was the best way. Luckily – although she thought she had a lot of books – she didn’t. She had perhaps 10% of what we brought with us in our own move. And that number of books you can unpack in an afternoon, and they also fit into the available bookcases.

What was interesting for me was to see what matters to other people; what they want to keep as they – try to – downsize. Because most of the books were old, of the kind that you have loved over the years and feel comfortable having around. None of this buying and keeping the latest in literature.* Which reassured me, as I often feel guilty for thinking my old books might be enough.

So there were books on geology, and there were A Lot Of Maps. A A Milne and Gerald Durrell. Someone called Talbot Mundy, whom I’ve never encountered before. Pearl Buck, and Kipling. Books on travelling. Well used cookbooks. Well loved books in general. I hope they’ll be happy in their new home.

*Apart from a copy of Sarah Dessen’s Lock & Key. I blame the granddaughters.

Meg unleashed

Five years on, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow looks the same. It’s just that in my mind I couldn’t make my photographic memory of what I call the ‘Sara Paretsky room’ match up with the ‘Julie Bertagna café’ area. After my search for the Aye Write! box office yesterday – I only had to ask three people – I was able to connect the five year old dots. Turned out I didn’t need a ticket after all…

The Mitchell is a nice place, where people come to use the computers and eat in the café and take their shoes off and strum their guitars. Warm too, but I was reluctant to remove my jacket in case the fire alarm would see me and go off.

Anyway, I made it all the way up to the 5th floor for Meg Rosoff’s event, and sat down to wait, surrounded by several seriously psychedelic carpets. Getting an authorly hug was nice, and I was glad that Meg had put me on a list to get in. The audience was exclusively female, if you don’t count the two male Aye Write! volunteers.

Introduced by local author Zoe Venditozzi, Meg discovered she’d already gone native by saying she’d talk a ‘wee bit’ about Jonathan Unleashed. She’s feeling ‘happy and well adjusted’ at this stage between writing and publication, unlike when she feels that ‘there will never be another book and my family will starve.’ On the other hand, good writing requires that she keeps ‘that balance of terror and confidence.’ And ‘maybe [Meg’s] brain is emptying out’ of books…

Yes, quite.

Meg told us how she woke up in August 2013 with the first line of the book, and just knew this was going to be her next book, without knowing what else would happen or why. Being what she calls a bad plotter, she described how her good friend Sally Gardner tends to come to the rescue. Sally was also able to see who Jonathan’s romantic interest should be.

She loves Lucky Jim, and she doesn’t mind stealing plots. Jonathan is a big ‘numpty’ really, and she read the bit where he first takes ‘his’ dogs to the vet’s. Meg apologised for not being able to do a proper British accent, after all her years in England.

Greeley, the character of uncertain sex in the book, is the way he/she is because it’s how Meg feels; never quite fitting in and not managing to heed her mother’s advice to be ‘more ladylike.’ In her writing she gives her clueless characters friends in order to help them. She said how together, she and her husband Paul are not ‘so nutty’ as they would be on their own.

Penguin dropped her when she wrote this adult novel, and Meg said how exciting it was to have Jonathan Unleashed auctioned both in Britain and in the US. Meg didn’t exactly mince words, and one of her more quotable lines yesterday was how ‘one could if one were a more generous-minded person.’ And then there was her first work, the ‘dark pony book.’ She blames the internet, which is where weird people find more weird people interested in the same thing, like My Little Pony or dinosaur sex.

Asked what books she has enjoyed recently, Meg mentioned Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm and that old ‘children’s’ classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. (If Meg were to see a child read it she said she’d take it away from them.)

To sum things up, novel writing is basically about getting stuck halfway, suffering, and tearing your hair out.

Meg Rosoff

And on that cheerful note we ran out of time. Not wanting to walk down five flights of stairs, Meg and I and a librarian got the lift down, after which we realised we had no idea where Meg was supposed to do her signing. We found it in the end, but the search was a new and different experience.

Wanting to take me out for a drink afterwards, Meg asked around for ideas of where to go. We left the building, only to stand on Julie Bertagna’s corner outside, staring at Meg’s mobile phone app. Which might have been upside down. The phone, not so much the app. Once we’d turned the motorway the right way round, and rejected one Indian restaurant, we ended up at the Koh-I-Noor, which I in my witchy way had clocked as I crossed the motorway earlier.

I clearly sensed it was for me. We shared their sharing vegetarian thali (apparently Meg is veggie these days, unless she is force-feeding Cathy Cassidy chicken stock) and gossiped about publishing, authors, children, growing older. And then I went off to Charing Cross for my train and Meg limped bravely back to her hotel, blisters from new boots and all.

Which, more than anything, brought home to me how hard the lovely people who write books work, travelling all over the place to meet the readers. Not just favourite authors, but all of them.

Thank you.

Faraday and the aspies

I like it when people contact me about new books (or old, for that matter) because they know something about me, or have looked me up, and they are aware that I have special interests.

So no, I don’t think I’ll collaborate on a blog tour for a violent, adult thriller just now, thank you. Especially as I’ve never heard of you before. Or read your book.

In the last few weeks I’ve been approached by someone about a novel with a minor character who is an aspie. Except the aspieness has – apparently – nothing to do with the plot. The description of the book was rather lengthy, but I think that it’s an adult novel, which just happens to have an aspie character.

And then there was the – also rather lengthy – description of what I believe might be a children’s reference book. It was based on something to do with Michael Faraday, and again, I’d like to think that they contacted me for a reason. Except they didn’t mention this. So perhaps they didn’t know, and I was one of thousands they approached.

I tried not to mind the spelling errors. But when their return email address was so obviously wrong, you begin to wonder. Whereas I was actually quite tempted this time, I decided I couldn’t reply.

The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows

It’s grisly. That’s what it is. And good. Here is Marnie Riches’s third George McKenzie novel, and it is as bloody as the first two. It deals with child trafficking in Europe, so is not easy to read about. Nor are the murders, where the reader as always is sitting in the front row of the stalls, seeing everything.

At one point I paused to think, wondering whether it’s good for me to read about this much blood and gore, accompanied by generous dollops of swearing and sex. I decided it probably was, and that the difference lies in the fact that the books have been written by a woman.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows

We meet first hand, parents whose children go missing, live through their agony, seeing how their lives fall apart. We are cold, too. Both London and Amsterdam are freezing, caught in exceptionally low temperatures and masses of snow.

Criminologist George is busy visiting jails as well as being annoyed with her lover van den Bergen, until he calls her in to help with his murder hunt and the missing children.

Should I have seen the end coming? I don’t think so. You just know that something not terribly good is about to happen, while hoping there will also be some positive news for a few characters. (If there are more books, I’d like some solutions for Elvis and Marie, please.)

Marnie has put more of herself in this book, giving it more of a raw edge. If you can cope with the grisliness, this is great stuff.

(Order your ebook here.)