Monthly Archives: March 2017

Post kill

Please don’t send me more chocolate! It won’t make me love you or your book any more than not sending it will do, and I can’t eat it. In fact, I’m increasingly surrounded by people who will not be having any of the book chocolate I receive.

What to do with it?

It’s quite attractive when someone has had a bar of chocolate designed to match the book cover. I appreciate the idea. But I will still have to get rid of it.

And then there are the smaller, anonymous, pieces of – what looks like – chocolate. And other small sweets, which I won’t eat either. Recently there was a recipe and part of what was needed to make something, which I won’t identify here, as it was pretty specific.

Some of these books I will read and like. Some I will not. I will neither like nor dislike the book because of the freebie.

And then my mind goes off in another direction. If the blank chocolates appeared in a crime novel, alongside a book, addressed to a book reviewer… Well, there are certainly possibilities there! And, you know, if that book when sent out to reviewers were to be accompanied by chocolate… Well.

Sara Paretsky once had VI Warshawski in desperate need of something to write on, and furnished her heroine with the backs of press releases of books for review, which VI came across, for whatever reason. I quite liked that. I do all my Bookwitch planning on the backs of them.

But they are not going to kill anyone.

Closed Casket

I must admit I can’t work out what the four words are. Having finished reading Sophie Hannah’s second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, I remembered her saying at the Edinburgh launch that four words describe the whole thing. You know, something like ‘the butler did it.’ Except he didn’t. I mean, maybe he did. I’m saying nothing.

There is an outlandish character in Closed Casket, but one I had no trouble believing in, as I’ve met someone like that myself. I wonder if there is one like that in most people’s lives?

Sophie Hannah, Closed Casket

In this second Poirot outing we meet an Enid Blyton kind of children’s mystery author. Very rich and famous, this woman changes her will, leaving everything to her dying secretary, which is a weird thing to do. And from that we have our mystery. Who will die, and who murdered them and why?

More so than in Sophie’s first Poirot novel, I felt this one gave more space to Poirot’s Scotland Yard friend Catchpool, letting Poirot work around him. They have been invited to the author’s home in Ireland, and while the house itself is fancy, the surroundings seem less attractive than we are used to in Agatha’s own books. Much less vicarage chintz for the blood to spill on, so to speak.

There is a whole cast of likeable – and less likeable – characters, and it really was difficult deciding who must have dunnit. In fact, I didn’t. I just let myself  float along, happy to let any of them be the bad guy.

Bookwitch bites #140

The London Book Fair was last week. There was plenty to tempt, but very little time and energy on my part, so I’ll hold out until some other year. The family was represented by Son, who sleepered south one night and sleepered back north the next night. In between all that ‘sleeping’ I imagine he did book-related work. So many people were there, and I have actually not asked him who he saw, but I do know he met up with/ran into Daniel Hahn.

Daniel did lots of things at LBF, most of which I’ve no idea what they were. (If you feel this is looking like me telling you very little, then you are right. I am.) I understand there was an event with Son’s colleague, fellow translator Guy Puzey. I’d hazard a guess they talked about translations.

Daniel Hahn radio

While on the subject of Mr Hahn, there was a piece on the radio the other week, where he talked about Good Books.

The Carnegie shortlist has been announced, and that has good books too. Mal Peet is on there, with Meg Rosoff, as are Glenda Millard, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Zana Fraillon and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Carnegie shortlist 2017

Damien Love who self-published his exciting book Like Clockwork a few years ago, now has a fantastic book deal in the US where it will be published some time in 2018 as Monstrous Devices.

Damien US deal

And finally, Debi Gliori tells the world about my marvellous baking skills in a recent blog post on her new blog. It’s very sweet of her. If I didn’t know what a great baker she herself is, I’d say she’s too easily impressed. In fact, I think I’ll say that anyway. Too easily impressed.

But you know, it’s not every culinary attempt of mine that ends up having a professional portrait made of itself.

Semla by Debi Gliori

Funny on Facebook

It was easier than the time I carried a Christmas tree round St Andrews, eventually taking refuge in a bar while I waited for Daughter to come and take the tree off my hands. This time I merely carried her forgotten boots, but nevertheless I took refuge in the same bar as I waited for her to come and take the boots off my hands. One has to have traditions.

Those of you who are awake right now might recall that Daughter has left St Andrews. But there are conferences and things, and this was one such thing, for which the boots were required. And what are parents for, but to carry, deliver and generally help? Today, as you read this, we are in Edinburgh, collecting the same boots, because their usefulness is over. Until next time.

Uncharacteristically for the young, she invited me to come and hear her talk, which meant that after the boot-handover we trudged to the university department where she spent four years and that I occasionally visited. There were a lot of men! St Andrews is odd in that the ratio of female to male students at the Physics department is unusually equal. Hence my reaction to seeing so many men. But that’s conferences for you.

I had mock-threatened to ‘speak to her teacher’ but had no intention of being that embarrassing. In the end it was the teacher (one of them) who spoke to me because she recognised me. Did I visit too often?

I was also introduced to one of the conference organisers, who is a ‘fan of mine on facebook.’ Seems I’m funny. Well, we knew that. Besides, having a parent at a conference is cute… Apparently.

The talk was good. I almost understood it. But then, star spots are ‘easier’ than the white dwarfs which preceded them. We had the pleasure of hearing the professor exclaim ‘what was the question?’ and I discovered that the chap in front of me has a bank balance of just over £2000.

Tales from Weird Street

Anne Fine, Tales from Weird Street

Anne Fine’s Tales from WeirD Street for Barrington Stoke are a lot scarier than you’d think, but aimed at a youngish age group, not as horrible as they could be. I mean, I was fine. My interest wasn’t lost through the stories being too wimpy, or anything, but neither did they have me kicking and screaming. Much.

Three children – living in WeirD Street – compete to see who can tell the scariest story. Each has a story that purports to come from someone else; a friend or relative or neighbour. So it didn’t happen to them, but to someone close and reliable so obviously this really happened.

Someone tells of the photograph that caused a boy to drown. Another tale tells of a Chinese restaurant and its ‘fortune’ cookies. And then there is a ghost who…

I would say, beware of the fortune cookie!

(Illustrations by Vicki Gausden)

The Pavee and the Buffer Girl

You can’t read and review a truly divine story too many times. Siobhan Dowd’s short story The Pavee and the Buffer Girl has just been published as a book in its own right, by Barrington Stoke, illustrated by Emma Shoard, and you want to buy it purely for those pictures! They are stunning, and the whole book is so beautiful.

Siobhan Dowd and Emma Shoard, The Pavee and the Buffer Girl

(Here is the link to when I first reviewed it, many years ago. I can’t believe time has passed so quickly.)

It’s a story about Irish travellers, and if I didn’t know that Siobhan could turn her hand to anything, I’d ask how she could know what it’s like for people like Jim and his extended family. It’s as though she had been there. Maybe she was.

More poignant than ever, this brief tale about outsiders unwanted by a community is very touching. Jim and his cousins have to go to school when they stop to live in a new town. They are not welcomed, and Jim’s younger cousin is severely bullied, and eventually the group of travellers decide they will be better off somewhere else and they leave.

Before that, Jim has made friends with a girl in his class at school, another outsider who doesn’t quite fit in, and whose home life is dreary.

In the current climate where reading and libraries are so threatened, it’s humbling to learn that none of the travellers know how to read, but would love to be able to. Jim’s mum is so hopeful when she asks if he will teach her, if he learns anything. It makes you want to cry.

Siobhan Dowd and Emma Shoard, The Pavee and the Buffer Girl

Gifts, and offering support

As well as returning ‘home’ Daughter was kind enough to bring gifts. We really didn’t need anything, but there you are.

Dictionary with grape

She gave me a book, apologising for the fact that it’s not the sort of thing I’m in desperate need of. But it’s so reasonably sized I forgive her.

Carrier bag

The Resident IT Consultant seemed surprisingly happy with his plastic carrier bag, with the names of the countries of Latin America adorning it.

Stone

She felt a little guilty over the lack of a proper present for her father, so before leaving again (she had a conference to attend) Daughter offered him a small stone as well.

So it’s all good.

Spending these weeks on the top of a mountain in a country where she doesn’t speak the language (the girl can’t even pronunce the name Jorge!) brought home to her that she has now picked up a bit of French in her daily life, after all.

Whereas with my past Spanish experience I can not only say Jorge properly, but helped with the odd other thing. We had to come up with a note for the cleaner to explain that she rather wanted them to remove the towel with the dead spider inside. And preferably replace it with a clean towel. (They did.)

Speaking of clean, they do the laundry for the visiting scientists, where you complete a list of what you hand over, with quaint descriptions like ‘under drawers’ and the like. However, it might have been International Day of Women and Girls in Science last month, but up on that mountain they haven’t allowed for a commonly worn female support garment on their laundry list. We had to Google it, as I must admit to not having any memory of learning about corpiños at school.

Off the mountain

La Silla in the distance

The last thing I expected back in 1973, after the first 11th of September, was that one day one of my children would travel to Chile, to be bussed up a mountain in order to sit every night for two weeks operating a telescope. Or that to get to her telescope – one of several – she’d have to drive a car in the dark (and I do mean in the dark, as otherwise the night sky would be lit up), avoiding hitting donkeys or falling off the side.

La Silla

As someone on facebook remarked, it looked very sci-fi up there. It really did.

There were tremors and – possibly – deadly spiders. Donkeys, as I said, and some rabbity/squirrelly creatures. Humidity was a problem (if it’s too high you have to close the dome and put a little hat on the telescope, in the dark). And powercuts weren’t helpful either.

La Silla

So, that was my last few weeks, that was. (I’d say the killing of the – possibly – deadly spider with a handtowel was the highlight, as experienced from my end.)

Whereas 43 years ago I went on marches and attended support concerts, all in the company of the Chilean refugees who came to Sweden, along with our ambassador who made himself persona non grata. Those were the days. But as I said, I could not see Daughter doing the driving in the dark, or the donkeys. Well, who could?

She’s back ‘home’ now, after a three hour bus journey, 16 hours on three planes and a night’s rest in Santiago, where it’s hot. That’s summer for you.

La Silla

The Scarecrow Queen

Starting with the third book in a trilogy is not something I often do. If only one book from a trilogy is to be read, I tend to prefer the first, while also risking ‘having to’ continue, because once started you will want to finish.

Melinda Salisbury, The Scarecrow Queen

I only came across Melinda Salisbury a few months ago, when I heard much good about her first book, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I was aware there was a second, but before I knew where I was, I found the third one, The Scarecrow Queen in the post, and after some agonising over time, I decided to jump straight in and begin at the end.

Which is not always a bad thing. It took me a while to learn who’s who (especially as Melinda doesn’t go in for the sometimes so tiresome explanations to help new – or forgetful – readers), but from then on it was almost as if I’d not skipped the first two.

A very bad Prince has ousted a good King and is now busy killing and controlling the people around him. This is fantasy, and he has golems and clay dolls at his disposal. He holds some of the good characters prisoner, while others are busy picking up the pieces from a devastating attack elsewhere. Twylla is the sin eater’s daughter and she is trying to get back to free her friend Errin, who is an apothecary, so that they can attempt to stop the Sleeping Prince.

This is a perfect fantasy for teenagers, with some strong female role models among the main characters. There is fighting and there is romance, and a lot of backstabbing as you hope you know who is on your side, while discovering who can’t be trusted.

Melinda avoids a too sugar-sweet ending, having kept the reader guessing throughout. I suspect the future will bring many more great books for her fans to enjoy.

Unbranded

Unbranded sounds simple and wholesome, doesn’t it?

For a few years I actually boycotted Waterstones, but gave it up because I grew more sensible, and I also gained another bookshop to boycott in its place. A Bookwitch needs to have some kind of enemy at all times.

I mention this because I’m about to say I am in favour of the new, small, unbranded bookshops Waterstones have started up in smaller towns. Yes, it can be seen as sneaky not to use the Waterstones name, but if the shop is smaller, and thereby a little different from your usual High Street stores, then maybe a separate name is more suitable. And it’s not as if it’s a secret, since they have a small sign saying it’s really them.

As long as they don’t descend on a small town with an existing bookshop, this development can only be a good thing. Maybe the town lost its bookshop because someone retired? Or they didn’t have enough funds to keep going. Waterstones are obviously in a stronger position, having a big and successful organisation behind them, as they aim to become Small Town Books.

There can be drawbacks with large commercial bodies – although it seems as if Waterstones have become more sensible in recent years (rather like me…) – and I would much prefer that a small town has a bookshop than not. Hopefully there won’t be any of the daft stuff you occasionally get with small indies, however much I like them.

As as the Resident IT Consultant said, we can only hope Waterstones staff and their unbranded colleagues now have permission to recommend books (unlike when Son had to resort to advising customers in secret).