Author Archives: bookwitch

13 Hours

Narinder Dhami’s 13 Hours would make a great film. The way she stuffs all the action of her book into a limited period of time, from one evening until the next morning, had me reading until I got to the end. There wasn’t even a conscious decision to read all of the book right then; I just did.

Narinder Dhami, 13 Hours

Anni has recently started secondary school and she has to run all the way there and back, in order not to be away from her housebound mum for too long. They live alone and Anni does all the housework as well as comforting her – agoraphobic – mum whenever she needs it, which is nearly all the time. The reader comes to vaguely dislike the woman for putting her daughter in this situation.

Until one Friday evening when the mum’s panic actually seems to have some foundation in reality, and there really are intruders in the house. What can the two of them do against these unknowns?

While there is no violence or very much threat, the situation is still extremely tense, and Anni desperately tries to think of ways to escape. So does her mum.

But meanwhile we find out more about the intruders, and…

Really very exciting and it also makes you think, about all kinds of things. So as well as reading a thriller, we learn about agoraphobia and young carers, and there is advice on how to get help (not if you have intruders in your house, however) when you need it.

And sometimes not even the good characters tell the truth or are above reproach. It’s Ace.

Guilt

Let’s be honest. I receive a lot of books, and even if I did like the look of them all, I couldn’t physically fit in reading every book that arrives. As I’ve said before, often I don’t read books I actively like the look of. Let alone the others.

The new year brought many picture books. I can’t recall whether every January is like that, but this year the postman was truly bending low under the weight of jolly picture books. Even non-jolly ones, if there were any like that.

I will read some and others not. Nothing unusual about that. But I was startled to realise that I felt guilty over rejecting picture books. True, I could more easily read all or most of them as they don’t take much time. But I still won’t.

Because I didn’t like all of them. And that made me feel bad. How can a witch not like large and colourful pictures, full of fun and worthy messages and loveable characters?

So, I’m doing guilt, in the hopes that this might absolve me somehow. A Bookwitch confession.

There are others out there who will love them. My task is to propel them in the right direction.

Launching books

There are many ways to launch a book. Yesterday I had tea out with Baby Tollarp and his mother. He had one of those lovely little board books handed out by the Scottish government to all new babies in Scotland. BT launched his continuously. Mostly on to the floor. From where his mother picked it up and handed it back and then it was soon on the floor again. He had quite a sneaky look about his lovely young face when he had worked out how this was done. Slip book accidentally on purpose down the side of the highchair. Wait for it to be returned. Repeat.

Beyond Borealism: New Perspectives on the North

From there I went straight across Edinburgh’s George Square to another baby book launch. The Resident IT Consultant and I had been permitted to attend Son’s book launch. This was not a boardbook. Beyond Borealism: New Perspectives on the North is more of a collection of ex-conference papers, co-edited by five of the Scandinavian Studies department’s doctoral candidates (Ian Giles, Laura Chapot, Chris Cooijmans, Ryan Foster and Barbara Tesio).

Beyond Borealism: New Perspectives on the North - launch

There was admirably little talk. The department’s Alan Macniven introduced the editors. The editors said a few words, mostly along the lines of ‘let’s open the fizzy bottles.’ And then they did, and some of the corks made gratifyingly noisy journeys towards the ceiling.

Beyond Borealism: New Perspectives on the North - launch

There were cheeses and olives, crisps and sweets. Lots of mingling. Money changed hands whenever someone wanted to buy a copy of the book. This went on for a couple of hours.

Beyond Borealism: New Perspectives on the North - launch

Once the remaining bottles had been hidden under someone’s desk, Son and Dodo walked the wrinklies – as we are now called – towards a rather nice Indian restaurant where we were allowed to buy them a belated birthday dinner. After some quite agreeable dosas they deposited us on the bus back to Waverley, with our bus passes and senior railcards and everything.

Pride

You can’t go wrong with solidarity on a day like today.

And when there isn’t as much of it about as we could do with, it can be necessary to timetravel.

I watched the film Pride over Christmas, because it was on television. If you’ve seen it you know how heartwarming it is. How warming of just about anything it is. And how much we need this right now.

This week has been hard in several ways, and the only solution I could come up with was to introduce the Resident IT Consultant to Pride, while it’s still available on iPlayer. (Five more days, people!) I could tell he had his doubts as we started, but by the end we blubbed side by side, the way you do when you’ve been watching an extraordinary film; one based on true events.

I’m sorry to say I was far too unaware of this when it happened in the mid-1980s. I wish I’d realised quite how big it was. But glad I had no idea how much we’d need this today, when things have changed for the worse.

If you need something to take your mind off things today; try Pride.

Pride

Mind the Gap

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

I’m an adult, so I knew where Phil Earle was going with his new book for Barrington Stoke. I’d read the same newspaper article he had when he was inspired. But it was still not obvious how he’d get the hero of his story there.

Phil has written about bleak teen lives before, but there was something that shocked me more than before in Mind the Gap. Mikey’s mother is a real piece of work and I’d happily do something to her myself.

Mikey’s father has died and he’s so lost that his best friend realises he needs to help Mikey before he loses his friend completely. But how do you find the voice of a dead man?

This is a tough story, but so much more inspiring because of it.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly

Will Duffy be riding into the sunset at the end of Adrian McKinty’s sixth novel about our – well, mine – favourite RUC detective? It’s quite obvious throughout the book that Duffy has had enough. More enough than before. You read and hope Adrian isn’t paving the way for killing Duffy, because it’d clearly be easier to kill someone tired of his current existence. But then he has a girlfriend and daughter to live for, although the relationship with Beth isn’t going well.

Adrian McKinty, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

Duffy is forced to dig his own grave, but as it comes first in the book, you hope it won’t be as final as it is made to look. Life in 1980s Northern Ireland seems harder than ever, and it’s not just the IRA or their Protestant counterparts. Duffy has always annnoyed his superiors, but never more than now.

Two attacks with bows and arrows, leaving one man dead, are mystifying the police, and as always it is hard to get witnesses to come forward, because they ‘didn’t see anything.’ Healthier that way.

I could be wrong, but the religious division felt worse than ever. And ironically some of Duffy’s strongest support comes from the Protestants around him. Although school friends are not always wrong, even at times like these.

He swears a lot, drives too fast and he drinks far too much, but Duffy is still someone you want for your friend. Just like Carrickfergus in 1988 appears to be more attractive than I suppose it was, back then. You want it to end well, even if this could be Duffy’s final mystery. You want his two fellow detectives to survive, too, and you’re even hoping for a rosy future for us all.

Hah.

And the bow and arrow thing is obvious once you know how and why.

Did I ever mention how much I love these books?

Babette laid an egg

Babette Cole

I well remember the shocked giggling at the book party. Back then, about twenty years ago, I was part of a group of mothers who hosted and attended many selling parties, and one kind was the Red House book party. That’s where my neighbour discovered Babette Cole’s Mummy Laid an Egg!

Babette Cole, Mummy Laid an Egg

She had probably been a little bit too properly brought up for the openness in Babette’s book. Hence the palpable shock, even if she giggled. Which just goes to prove how essential this very funny picture book was, and still is. Children need to be told where babies come from, if only so they can pass that knowledge on to their parents.

And now Babette has died, and there won’t be any more books to produce such gasps among the older generation.