Author Archives: bookwitch

Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

Suddenly there are unicorns everywhere! And I thought they were extinct. I mean, not real. They are mythical creatures often found in fiction. As in Lindsay Littleson’s brand new book Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, where they are an endangered species. But real. Maybe.

Of course they are. Rhona and Lewis can see them clearly, starting when abseiling while on a week’s wildlife experience with school.

And when they find a .., well I can’t tell you what they find. But they know they have to do something and go looking for unicorns to save. In case they are real. Which they are.

Lindsay Littleson, Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

But there are bad people in this world, even in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and the two children know they need to act before it’s too late. It’s quite magical, but also very real and gritty.

Lewis is a loner who would rather do anything but be out there in the wilds. His only friend, Rhona, loves it, but then she has kept her home life a secret, meaning Lewis has no idea what she’s wanting to escape from. At least she’s nice and warm in the jacket from the school’s lost property box.

Together these two courageous, and occasionally scared, children meet magic in the woods. And their teachers have no idea!

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What’s a novel?

What counts as a novel? I asked the Resident IT Consultant this over dinner, when I’d read an astounding – to me – headline in the Bookseller’s emailed newsletter.

It seems Quercus has bought the rights to Eoin Colfer’s first adult novel. I thought, ‘hang on, what first adult novel?’ I looked in my bookcase and found two, Screwed and Plugged. Signed, even, so one can assume Eoin has taken responsibility for them.

We discussed how you might remove the novel-ness from a crime, erm, novel. I didn’t think it was possible. I know some people look down on crime, as they do children’s books, but if it’s full length written fiction, it seems to me we are talking about a novel. And surely Quercus who have published so much excellent crime, would not sneer at it.

Eoin Colfer

But no, it appears we are talking about Eoin’s first adult fantasy novel. I was able to click on the article to read it (I have only limited access) and found that they might have lost the fantasy word in the newsletter.

From the description it could be a Carl Hiaasen type adventure, and I can think of no better author to do this than Eoin. ‘Highfire is described as the “violent, gripping tale of Vern who’s been hiding out in the Louisiana bayou, until Squib Moreau explodes into his life, hotly pursued by a corrupt policeman, and his peaceful existence disappears in a hail of high-velocity projectiles.” ‘

Promising, yeah? ‘Publisher Jo Fletcher said: ”I was doubly hooked the moment I met Vern, the vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon whose isolated life in the bayous of Louisiana is about to be interrupted by Squib Moreau, a swamp-wild, street-smart, dark-eyed, Cajun-blood tearaway looking to save his momma from the romantic attentions of a crooked constable.”’

So I forgive them their missing fantasy word. I might quite like this book – I mean novel – when it is published. January next year, so some patience will have to be found somewhere.

Summer of My German Soldier

It became necessary to take plenty of breaks. Usually this is a sign of a not very captivating book, but with Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier, it was imperative not to read too much in one go, and not because I wanted the book to last longer, either. It was ‘just’ too strong stuff. I needed to brace myself, somehow.

I’d already forgotten that that is what Lucy Mangan says in her Bookworm memoir; ‘when I reread it now, I have to put it down every few pages and walk around for a bit to let it all bed down before I am ready for the next chapter.’ Because it was on her recommendation that I bought a second hand copy of the book.

Bette Greene, Summer of My German Soldier

And if I only have one of her favourites, this has to be the one. Rarely have I come across anything quite like this WWII story about a 12-year-old Jewish girl in Arkansas, who ends up sheltering an escaped German soldier.

Patty is an unusual girl, not loved by her family, but very intelligent, except perhaps when it comes to understanding when not to say some things. Beaten often by her father, it’s hardly surprising she laps up the kindness and politeness Anton Reiker has to offer. They have intellectual conversations and Patty learns about his home in Göttingen.

You know this can’t end well, and it doesn’t. But this must be the best really bad ending to a children’s novel I’ve ever read. Whether I could have coped with reading it in my early teens is another question entirely. Probably not, would be my guess.

Written thirty years after it’s set, I don’t know if Bette describes the American south correctly, but it does feel like it. German soldiers were obviously bad. So were Jews, and also all black people, whose job it was to clean and cook for everyone else. There is unexpected goodness in places, but otherwise this is harsh.

If it was difficult to read for any length of time, then it is harder still to work out what to read next.

I suppose I could reread it…

Death of a bookshop

From now on it will be a lot easier to describe where I’m going, if I’m going into our holiday town to buy books. I’ll be going to the bookshop. There will no longer be two of them, the ‘antique’ names of which I still cling to, in order to tell them apart. Meijels Bokhandel and Larssons Bokhandel.

Now Halmstad Bokhandel (my Meijels) has been declared bankrupt. It has operated under that name for thirty years, and before that it was Meijels for 27 years. Which means that there was a time in my life when that shop on the corner of Brogatan and Hantverksgatan was not a bookshop, but I don’t remember that. (Back in those days we only went to Larssons, where Mother-of-witch had one of her students. The ‘middle Larsson,’ I believe.)

But Meijels is ‘mine,’ because it’s where I once had a holiday job, and it has always been the place I go to first when I needed a book or stationery.

It is obviously a case of death by cyberspace bookshops. While Amazon has barely got its teeth into Sweden, there have been several internet based bookshops, selling books cheaper, and faster.

Apparently the 83-year-old owner of Halmstad Bokhandel has – more recently – worked in the shop himself, along with his two sons, to keep costs down. But they have to eat too.

I don’t mourn just the death of a bookshop. It’s the fact that soon Halmstad will be nothing but pharmacies and bars and kebab places. They are all lovely, of course, but a town needs a bit of normal shopping as well.

Mortimer and the Sword Excalibur

Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake, Mortimer and the Sword Excalibur

I’ve come to the end of Joan Aiken’s short books about Mortimer, the slightly naughty raven, and his Arabel Jones. As I have probably said before, these books are a lovely piece of time travel, back to that underestimated period that was the 1970s. It shows that anything you write about ‘now’ will one day mean travelling back in history, if you are only truthful enough about what it’s like now.

I suppose the title gives it away somewhat, but this is a story with an Arthurian flavour. Mortimer shows an unsuitable amount of enthusiasm for the neighbour’s lawnmower, and that is pretty much it. I can see where Arabel’s mother, Mrs Jones, gets annoyed with the family’s pet raven.

Arabel herself is being ‘threatened’ with a new dress. Pink. What’s so fascinating about that is that this is how it was; the making your own clothes, and how you made them, showing Joan Aiken knew a bit about dressmaking, which is now rather a lost art.

As for that sword, well…

(Mortimer-ish illustrations by Quentin Blake)

Seeing clearly – Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy

I was sorry to see Andrea Levy has died. She was my age, which makes it feel so much worse.

Never having read any of her books, I still have that opportunity. An author leaves so much behind. But I don’t know why I didn’t before. There was time before I got caught up with non-stop children’s books.

Actually, I might know. There is a difference in how the press writes about a living person and how they are portrayed after death. I keep saying it’d be nice – for everyone – to read more about someone now, rather than save so much for when it feels too late.

I ‘met’ her once in Edinburgh, and having revisited that day just now, I do remember how appalled I was at the way the press officer held her glasses while the photographers did their thing.

Andrea Levy

But I suppose there are worse things in life than grubby lenses.

On the Come Up

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been on all the lists, including, strangely enough, IKEA’s. I was aware of the book. Well, you can’t help being aware, but somehow felt it might not be for me.

Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

So when I wanted to read something by Angie, I decided to go straight to her second novel, On the Come Up. I’m not sure I know exactly what that means, but it doesn’t matter because it is Absolutely Fantastic.

Bri is 16 and wants to be a rapper. She and her brother live in poverty with their unemployed mother Jay, who must be one of the greatest fictional mothers ever!

I’m not sure whether the story is set somewhere real, or made up, but it feels very true. Bri and a few of her black friends are bussed out to a white school, where their parents hope for a future for their children, and the school hopes for more funds for taking them. It’s a school where the guards on the door unfairly target the black students.

Bri’s dead father was a famous rapper and she wants to be like him, except more like herself. It’s a hard world, and a dangerous one; white police on one side and enemy gangs on the other. Drugs. Violence.

Now, I know virtually nothing about rapping; what makes it good, or even why you do what you do. I’m old and white and I don’t get it. But I love this book. I’d have liked a soundtrack, just to keep me in there with Bri and her friends, and her drug dealing aunt and the neighbourhood children.

Yes, I know. I sound like some idiotic old white Witch. But this is one great book, with characters you’d like to meet.

Read it, even if you are a bit old.

Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

(I bought my own copy, so feel less guilty about saying that the UK cover above does rather less for me than the US cover, top, which seems much more Bri.)