Monthly Archives: March 2018

Oh Tracy Beaker

Who’d have thought Tracy Beaker would return?

Not me. Although when I think about it, I do realise it makes sense. Authors can and do revisit old characters. In this case for Jacqueline Wilson it does mean she needs to work round Tracy’s age.

Because it’s been a while. It’s easier to forget the passage of time when it’s someone outside your immediate family, even if Tracy almost, nearly, is family. I am aware that Daughter has got – a lot – older, so obviously Tracy has too. She was always a little older, anyway.

Jacqueline deals with the 27 years by making Tracy the adult, which sort of feels an unlikely thing, but why not? Tracy has a daughter of her own now, Jess.

And you know, when you get that far, it does make a lot of sense. Mothers and daughters can read together. I had just about come to the conclusion that I am unable to keep up with Jacqueline’s two new books a year, but this news has made me rethink. I need to meet Jess. But more than that, I have to see how Tracy is.


The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

As I read The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell, I was already in a mood for a very good book, Cambridge scientists were topical, and I do think about the environment quite a bit.

I love it when a middle grade book is more than a fun read for that age group, and actually appeals to me, for my own sake. Admittedly, Zillah has a publicist adept at twisting arms, but then some of the best books I’ve read have been the result of arm-twisting.

Zillah Bethell, The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

Auden is eleven and suffers from achromatopsia. And also ‘slightly’ from sarcasm. The first one means he can’t see colours, and the second means he’s rather fun. In Auden’s world they are at war, over water, which is so scarce that they are always thirsty and they smell, because washing doesn’t happen much.

His mother and Auden move from London to Cambridge, to live in his [dead] Uncle Jonah’s dilapidated house. Jonah was a scientist, and before long Auden and his new friend Vivi make a discovery in the garden. At first they don’t know what any of it means, but they are intelligent children and they work things out.

While this is a sort of eco adventure, you can’t get away from the horror of a world with hardly any water; where soldiers from the Water Allocation Board are armed to stop people from stealing a few extra drops to drink. It makes you think.

I really liked this book!

Black holes and other fun

The image of Stephen Hawking, who died yesterday, that generally comes to [my] mind when I think of him, is the happy one of him floating weightlessly inside one of those planes where you can simulate being in space. It tells you that this was a man who was up for fun, and not someone always weighted down by his reputation in science or the fact that he’s very famous, or even as ‘someone in a wheelchair.’

In other words, Stephen was a role model to lots of people, in many different ways.

If you only encountered him as the ‘Stephen’ who writes about science in his daughter Lucy Hawking’s books about George, you’d probably think he sounded like an OK guy. Not old, not filled with his own importance. And if you’re ten, which you could well be as a reader of the George books, that might be the only thing you know about him.

But he did get to grow fairly old. All right, 76 isn’t that old, but to outlive a life expectancy of a couple of years by another fifty is pretty good going. And I admired his public – and political – stance on what the government is doing to the NHS. It needs people of some importance to speak out, because the rest of us don’t seem to count. And as a user of the NHS, Stephen had more of a track record than many of us.

It’s also heartening to know that a man considered to be so brilliant now, was seen as more average or mediocre when he was young. That, if anything, is a sign that you can pull yourself together, and that you can turn into someone who inspired many young scientists, my own little one included. Nine years ago in Edinburgh Lucy Hawking shared an early opinion (school report, maybe?) on her father, just after he had received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. ‘This boy will never amount to anything.’

He showed them.

I have no idea how close to the truth the Eddie Redmayne film The Theory of Everything came, but in it you will see some of that playfulness. On Wednesday’s Today programme John Humphrys seemed taken aback at the idea that Stephen Hawking might have danced in his wheelchair.

I don’t see why not. Just because you can’t walk doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Or not want to dance.

Lucy Hawking, 'with' Stephen Hawking

(I borrowed the above photo from Lucy. It’s such a great illustration of how she travelled the world on her father’s behalf, even if he turned into a hologram on occasion.)


My heart is still beating. I mean, that is obviously good, but it did go thump thump thump rather a lot towards the end of Teri Terry’s Deception, the sequel to Contagion. This, too, ends with, if not exactly a cliffhanger, then with lots of questions left unanswered. And there has been much deception, and probably will be even more in the last instalment.

Teri Terry, Deception

More people die. Lots more. So if this was real, I’d definitely be dead. And as in Contagion, Teri kills both good characters and bad ones.

The disease keeps spreading. The carrier knows it’s their doing, but for a long time no one else realises who’s the guilty party.

We gain a few more major characters, because all this couldn’t be left to Shay and Kai and Callie to sort out. Some of them die. Some don’t. Not necessarily the right ones. But I quite like the set-up over dinner one night when one character demands of another that she teaches them to kill. ‘Show us again,’ … ‘If anyone comes around with a flame-thrower I want to be sure how to do it.’

The bad guy has become more obvious in Deception. Unless he’s merely misunderstood, of course. But I don’t think so. And while believing that we all have some good and some bad in us, I’m not counting on this one rescuing us all in the end.

There is deception in most of us too. We don’t always admit to everything, and sometimes we deceive. Intentionally. All is fair in love and war?

If you want a dystopic thriller, Teri Terry is your woman.

Bath time

Many years ago as I was at home in central Brighton, waiting for Mother-of-witch to arrive, I heard what could charitably be described as a motorbike on steroids drive up our little cul-de-sac. It was the right time, but definitely not the right sound. But as I looked out, it turned out to be her after all. Seems she had lost a bit of her exhaust en route.

At the time I thought nothing about her driving around England. It’s only as I’ve got really old that I understand how brave she was being, getting her car on and off the ferries, and driving on all those roads with roundabouts everywhere, and on the wrong side, too.

I gave her tea. It was the least I could do after her exhausting ordeal, and she told me about her drive from the Lake District. Earlier that day she’d had a look round Bath. And after she had seen what there was to see, she had gone up to a policeman and asked him where she had parked her car.

Bath policemen are obviously really good, because he was able to tell her. (It probably helped that she had made a note of the name of the street.)

As a parent myself I have occasionally ‘entertained’ Offspring with this story. I’ve never expected them to listen, or to remember it.

But last week as Son made his Bath debut with a day trip to this beautiful city, he came back and asked about that story about his grandmother losing the car in Bath. Had I been with her?

I explained that if I had, I clearly wouldn’t have permitted Mother-of-witch to lose a car like that.

But I’m quite impressed. He’d listened. He’d remembered, and even placed the lost car in the correct place.

I may need to be more careful what I say. More silly anecdotes could resurface when I least expect it.

And we had the exhaust fixed before she drove home.

The Children of Willesden Lane

This is not a fictional tale about WWII, but the memoirs of Lisa Jura, who at the age of 14 came to London from Vienna with the Kindertransport. Written by Lisa’s daughter Mona Golabek with Lee Cohen, it is a simplified version of what Lisa used to tell Mona about as she grew up.

It lacks a little of the good quality story that you come to expect from this topic, but in the end I found I just wanted to see what Lisa’s life would have been like in England during the war. And as with many other books about refugees in the past, the reader marvels at how differently [from today] the new arrivals were treated by the British. At how many opportunities were offered them, even during the war.

And it makes you feel ashamed.

Lisa was one of three sisters, chosen by her parents for her age – not too young and not too old – and for her skills in playing the piano. They hoped she would be able to make something of herself in a new country.

Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, The Children of Willesden Lane

Things didn’t always go to plan, but the new arrivals were looked after. In Lisa’s case in a house full of child refugees, in Willesden Lane in London. And that confirms my theory that when you lose someone, while no one can replace dear family members, if you have someone else, your life isn’t empty. The children of Willesden Lane had each other, and they were looked after and loved by Mrs Cohen.

While not unique, this is still a very heartwarming, true story. Bad things happened, but the good things carried people through.

I would like to hope for a few more Lisas today.

Hills, and snow

In just over a week I have reviewed three books, all with things that connect them – at least in my mind – in that odd way I find when randomly selecting books to read. Or is it so random? Maybe the books tell me to pick them? Because in some cases I know so little about plot or setting that I can’t subconsciously be choosing the snow theme, or the computer theme, or the mermaid theme. Or the anything else theme.

The books on my mind today are Belle and Sébastien, Orphan Monster Spy and Astrid the Unstoppable. On top of that, there is the snow we had more than we wanted of.

Belle and Sébastien had lots of snow in it. An avalanche and more. Astrid skis and sledges in snow, and she even had lots left, high up, after Easter. That’s Norway for you. I don’t know that there was snow in Orphan Monster Spy, but because I had snow, and the setting of southern Germany made me think Alp thoughts – possibly incorrectly – it took me back to Sébastien’s Pyrenees.

Yes, those mountains. Lots in the Pyrenees, lots in Norway, and presumably some in Germany.

Two of the three books are translations, which is unusual enough for it to stand out. And the third was set in another country, with plenty of languages being mentioned and used.

I myself had plenty of language to use when looking out my windows too.

But at least the good thing about being marooned by snow and having several excellent books to read, is that the two combine so well.


Above, my personal avalanche, waiting to happen.