Monthly Archives: July 2019

The Starlight Watchmaker

I could be wrong, but I don’t normally associate the Barrington Stoke books with science fiction. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover Lauren James and The Starlight Watchmaker.

Lauren James, The Starlight Watchmaker

This story was both fun and sweet and a little different. There is an android, my second in mere weeks, and little green men, not to mention a sort of stone character. They are all people. Although, the androids are perhaps seen as less than others.

Hugo is an abandoned android watchmaker, living and working alone, when he meets student Dorian, who is rich and spoilt.

Dorian has a problem. And soon it’s apparent that the problem is more widespread than it seemed at first, and it’s down to Hugo and Dorian to solve the puzzle and hopefully solve the danger that the planet might be in.

This is about friendship and equality, and how we are all different, but we are still valuable in our own way. And it’s exciting!

Getting to know them

My most recent book cull made me think. You can look at reading in different ways.

I’ve often envied those who came to Harry Potter once he was all here; with no need to wait for ten years before being able to finish the series of books. But then, we who did wait, had ample time to read and wait and think and do other things.

Back in 2003 – and how long ago that seems now! – Offspring’s secondary school library started its Author of the Term project. Our first one was Adèle Geras. Then came Tim Bowler and after him, Linda Newbery. After them it is a blur and I can no longer recall who came or when.

I had barely read anything by Adèle when she came. (I’d probably hurriedly read a short book to enlighten myself a little.) But afterwards, well, I read them ‘all.’ Because I wanted to and I could. I had the time to cover her backlist, as well as everything new that came my way. What a treat! And how lovely it was.

With Tim I had read a little more. After all, I was the one who suggested him and who ‘forced’ Tim to agree to come. But there was still room for improvement and I did have a few of his books to catch up on. And then, again, the new ones.

Finally, I am almost certain I’d not read any of Linda’s many books. But she spoke so well about her writing that no sooner had she left than I started working my way through ‘all’ her books. I especially liked her war books, of which there were quite a few. And before long I also tackled Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, for the simple reason that if Linda had been inspired by it, it had to be good. Which it was.

I can no longer do this. Occasionally I have read someone’s books extra fast, before an interview, perhaps. But that was also some time ago. No more. Anyway, reading too fast is a waste of a good book, and if it isn’t all that good, then why bother?

It was a luxury, getting to know someone both as a person and reading what they’d written.

(And although I mostly bought copies of my own, I had the good luck to be helping out in the school library, with instant access to the books by Adèle, Tim and Linda. That’s why we need libraries.)

Eagle Warrior

Gill Lewis could make me an avid nature fan, and rather more interested in wildlife than I am now. That’s how good she is when she writes her ‘nature and animals’ stories. The stories are great, and the facts are presumably more correct than in most books, because I understand Gill knows her stuff.

Gill Lewis, Eagle Warrior

In Eagle Warrior we meet Bobbie, who lives on a Scottish farm with her family, which includes her grandmother, with whom she has much in common. The two look out for the golden eagle that has been seen nearby, and they worry in case the rich landowner might kill the bird.

There is so much in this short book; wildlife, family relations, education and getting on with your neighbours.

Bobbie doesn’t just need to keep the eagle safe, but she has her own future to consider, and there are many ways of looking at what is important in life.

I loved this story.

First Names with Malala

Happy 22nd Birthday, Malala! And Happy Malala Day, too.

When I discovered David Fickling Books’ new series First Names, I was quite excited. They sounded good and I hoped someone would send me one or two. This latest one is about Malala, and that is the only reason I read it, and am reviewing it here. She, and her quest for education for girls, is important enough for me to overlook the fact I was a bit disappointed.

Lisa Williamson and Mike Smith, Malala Yousafzai

The style of Terrible Histories, etc, is entertaining, but feels wrong here. I’m unsure what age group these books are intended for, but whether young or older, readers can manage a more serious style of writing.

The jokes wear thin if you stop and consider what’s happening in the lives of real people. I don’t imagine Malala’s parents felt at all in the mood for jokes when their daughter’s life was in danger after she was shot. Yet, there the joke is.

I have learned new facts about Malala, and I probably admire her more now, but I’d have liked a different kind of book. I’m not sure the horror of the Taliban lends itself to cartoons. Yes, it’s great to see how Malala like many older siblings was less than keen to acquire younger brothers. We want to see her as the normal girl she is, or at least was.

Malala was lucky enough to have the right parents, and she has done many great things. We are lucky to have got to know this brave girl and to see how she’s working to educate girls all over the world.

My wish is this book will be read and enjoyed by many, and that the cartoon style Malala will help children understand what happened and what continues to happen in our insane world. I just hope its young readers haven’t been underestimated.

Body Brilliant

I’d like to add an extra l and o to the title of Nicola Morgan’s new book, Body Brilliant – A teenage guide to a positive body image. Because it is bloody brilliant, as are all Nicola’s advice for teens books. She’s the best friend one could hope for, and as we are considered teenagers until we are 25, and most of us are not a day over 29, these books are for everyone.

Just think how many hours of my life I could have saved back then, by not worrying about my eyebrows. These days I know I have more than the requisite number of stomachs and chins, but can grudgingly accept that there might be something good about me regardless.

Nicola Morgan, Body Brilliant

Reading all those advice columns in magazines, we’d have been so much better off with Nicola’s books. I’m glad they are here for young people today, as well as the not so young.

I won’t tell you which chapter I headed for first, but it was very satisfying and while I don’t know if I learned anything new, it’s good to have these things mentioned again.

For each chapter Nicola has comments from normal people, young and slightly older (I thought I could identify some people there), as well as her own words of well researched wisdom. She then finishes with a list of suggested websites, organisations and books, including fiction, for us if we need more.

It seems body image has nothing to do with mirrors. It’s all in the mind, and we should learn to love ourselves. There is something good about all of us, even if it’s the ability to touch worms. (I’d rather not.) Nicola covers food, exercise, the internet, sex and gender identity, and much more.

As with her previous books, I’d advise you to keep Body Brilliant to hand for when you feel a bit wobbly. It’s like Nicola, a good friend to tell you what you need to hear, and what to do. In a way it’s all pretty obvious, but every once in a while one forgets what is sensible, and you need a friend to remind you.

It’s Cressida

After much speculation – well, in my circles, at least – as to who will be the next children’s laureate, we have the answer. It’s Cressida Cowell, who writes so well about dragons. Lots of young people read and like her books. What more could we want?

Cressida Cowell

For me it will be very practical as well, as I frequently look at a picture of Cressida and think ‘that’s Lauren Child,’ or the other way round. So now that she takes over from Lauren, they will be more closely linked than ever.

And it seems Cressida really is married to Simon Cowell. Only not that Simon Cowell. (When I saw the question online I thought what a silly question, but it seems it was me who was silly.)

Congratulations to Cressida, and may her reign be enjoyable and I hope she will be able to do what she hopes to achieve in her two years.

Standing firm

What with the way the world seems to be going, I’ve remembered a couple of events from my semi-distant past.

We had neighbours once, with children. It was before ours went to school, and being a naïve foreigner I knew very little. When it was time for the neighbours’ oldest to move to secondary education, they wanted the school that was perceived to be the best in town. Without paying for their education, that is.

So they did what they had to do and ‘omitted’ ticking the box on the form that showed the boys had attended a catholic primary school. Because back then – and it wasn’t that incredibly long ago – it seems anyone could attend the good state school, except for catholics.

When they were refused places at this school and they checked the application form, it turned out some kind soul at the primary school had ticked the catholic box for them.

They fought the decision, but by the time the authorities had changed their minds, the boys had begun term at the school deemed appropriate for their kind, and decided to stay where they were.

But as I said, it came as a shock to me.

As for speaking up, all the neighbours in our neighbourhood attended a public meeting about some development plans the nearby private school had, in the school’s hall. The chairman spoke at great length, putting the school’s needs and wants out there. After all, they were the private school, and the neighbourhood was just that; just people.

One woman had a question for him, and when he didn’t shut up for long enough, she piped up anyway, saying ‘I just wanted to ask…’

The chairman pointed his finger at her and replied, ‘lady, when I want you to ask, I’ll let you know.’

Which was when everyone stood up and left.

The trouble with granny

I’ve got a problem with grannies. And possibly with aunties. Fictional ones, obviously.

I mean, they’re nice enough (if that’s what they are meant to be). But they are frequently so old!

My thought was that authors have forgotten that grandparents these days are much younger than they were. Except, they’re not really, are they? They might seem younger [in real life] because us oldies are now so cool-looking and dress like almost teenagers and we have younger hair.

But the grandparents of the past had no reason for being old. Many married young, had children young, and so did their children. Hence, the fictional grandchildren’s grannies ought not to be all that wrinkly. In fact, what with people marrying later and having children later, now would be more logical for fictional grandparents to be really old.

Except, there is something about this that brings out my OCD traits. If I have a ten-year-old character and their grandfather, who is so old and so close to dying because of being old, I start counting. I count to see how old grandpa is likely to be. Often it seems as though he shouldn’t even be the wrong side of 60.

And aunts, too. Especially if they’re meant to be a bit disagreeable. But when the fictional mother might be early forties, why should her sister be all that much older? And why does she have a not age-appropriate name? If she’s 48, say, the likelihood of her having a name more commonly found in women in their seventies or older…

I wonder if it’s because the author is old, by which I mean they are not a child. So they pick a granny, or a name for the aunt based on their own grannies and aunts. If the aunt has to be quite unpleasant, she could still be so while being called Tamsin, and not Hilda. And kill the granny by means of an illness, and not just old age, if you feel they must die.

Murder in Midsummer

This summer crime anthology seemed like such a great idea. Clever title as a Midsomer look-alike book, and if you equate midsummer with summer holidays, or even warm, sunny holidays, you are mostly there.

And it starts well, with Ruth Rendell’s Wexford on holiday with his wife. I really enjoyed the story, nicely period, but not too old, from the 1970s. Later on, Appleby and wife are also out holidaying; also enjoyably, apart from for the poor victim.

Actually, I’m being unfair here. Nearly all the stories are good fun, and make for nice period entertainment.

Murder in Midsummer

I think it was primarily the Dorothy Sayers story featuring Lord Peter Wimsey himself which disturbed me. Yes, it’s historical. And yes, I firmly believe in not tampering with language for our delicate modern eyes. It wasn’t even the use of the word dago that got to me. It was how good old Wimsey looked at life. Yes, lighthearted as ever, but he made me feel uncomfortable. Even crusty old Sherlock Holmes felt slightly fresher.

There’s a curious – intentional? – pairing between the stories, with similar settings or characters. Lions, beach deaths, closed rooms, that sort of thing.

I’m the first to say how much I love period crime, but there is something that no longer feels quite right. And it’s so reassuring when the English, even when abroad, put their superior brains to good use and solve the crimes the local police are struggling with.


I do not run a library. I do not run a library. I do not run a …

Yeah, OK, there’s no need to write a hundred lines. I am a – reasonably – normal witch and I should only need to surround myself with a sensible number of my favourite books. But why is this so hard?

The last few times before Daughter has come to visit, I’ve had in mind that she could help me thin the books on the shelves in her room. The shelves with my books on them. It’s not happened. And this time I thought that someone who’s mid-pack, with a whole flat to move, might not appreciate coming to this house and being asked to shift even more unwanted stuff.

So I am approaching this task myself. Thought it’d be a nice touch if her room was nice and tidy. It won’t* be, but it’s a thought.

The purpose of owning books is not to be a library, or to be complete in any way. If I like Philip Pullman, say, there is no requirement for me to have every book he’s ever had published. I could own some of his books, and then part with a few if I reckon I’m unlikely to re-read them. Even Pullman-books aren’t guaranteed a second reading.

And of course I’m not a library. I hate lending books. So why do I believe I ought to be equipped in case someone is interested in borrowing one of my Pullmans? People don’t [always] return borrowed books. So if you wanted to borrow his Clockwork, you can’t. Partly because I don’t lend, as I said, and partly because someone borrowed it and ‘forgot’ to return it, so I don’t have Clockwork any longer.

On that basis I am now clearing out books that even I am surprised by. I am choosing some books I really love, because I probably won’t read them again, and I’ve discovered someone who would be just right for these books.

It’s time to let go.


(The above is a historical photo, before things got out of control.)

*Partly because the bathroom is being re-done and those bottles of shampoo and  toilet cleaner had to go somewhere…