Category Archives: Books

Skulduggery Pleasant – Seasons of War

I don’t think we’re done. 😮

With Skulduggery Pleasant, I mean. Seasons of War is the, let me see, thirteenth book, not counting the one without Detective Pleasant. But I am not com-plaining. I’m really not. I like this world with all the double-crossings and the magic and the hastily cut off limbs and the humour and all the rest.

Valkyrie Cain makes friends with the oddest people, as well as unfriends with some you’d not expect. Along with Tanith Low we have a formidable pair of women heroes, in many cases fighting better than the rest.

Omen Darkly is proving himself, and I have hight hopes of him. Even if he didn’t in the end do that thing, you know, which I had been expecting.

I’ve remarked before on how confusing, not to mention convenient, it can be when dead people stop being dead, and when they become your enemies instead of your friends. In Seasons of War we see a lot of the other world, where they also have a copy of every person, and they’re not necessarily the same, like dead, or friend, or foe.

So a lot gets sorted out in this thirteenth book, but some doesn’t. And there is new stuff that will need sorting.

It’s fun. And interesting.

The Great Godden

This is such a beautiful tale about summer holidays. I rarely feel that anyone can describe my early summers, but in Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden, I could have been there. OK, my summers were more boring, with fewer sex gods turning up and less of the undercurrents.

Or maybe not? Obviously no sex gods, but this novel brought home to me how different the slow, languid summers with nothing but sun, sea and sand appear to the young, and what it must be like for their parents. The ones who still have to cook meals and run everything, let alone as in this case, organise someone’s wedding and sew outfits. On holiday!

We have the 17-something main character and her three younger siblings and their parents, arriving at their summer bolthole, to spend all summer, engaging in their kind of nothings as usual. Tradition matters. (At first I thought I was in New England, but realised soon enough that the family live in London, and were driving to the coast, somewhere. It didn’t feel quite English; more Swedish, or maybe American.)

Anyway, this is marvellous, and I defy any reader not to want to join the family, along with the cousins next door and the lovely dog.

And then the Goddens turn up; gorgeous Kit and surly Hugo. They really stir things up, with everyone in love with Kit (who between you and me is a real piece of work) and turning their backs on Hugo.

Our arty main character observes everything, while also falling for the great Kit. Not much happens? Except, of course it does. You just barely notice.

This is wonderful! I feel as if I’ve been given permission to revisit those careless days when I enjoyed life, with no idea how the adults fared; having to get on with each other, and put meals on the table.

Round Scotland in books

Scottish children’s fiction has been on my mind these last few days. It’s not that it isn’t ‘always’ but I had an idea I had to think about. And there are so many books!

Barbara Henderson must have had too much time on her hands as she sat down to convert fifty tweets into a blog post, listing fifty children’s books set in places all over Scotland.

This is such an interesting list. I know some of the books, know of some of the other books, and have never heard of far too many of them. I could very easily use this compilation as a shopping/library list.

And you, why don’t you give A Tour Around Scotland in 50 Children’s Books a go? While you, and I, wait to be able to travel.

All you need are books.

We have their backs

We did a shoe exchange today. After staring at the two unwanted shoeboxes – with shoes in them – for over three months, the shop they came from opened again. We were slightly aghast at the long queue outside, and wondered if people really were that desperate for outdoor clothing, but it turned out they were all after plants from Dobbies next door.

So we donned our bankrobber masks and went in, brandishing the unwanted shoes, and asking if they would let the Resident IT Consultant in to buy replacements for his by now rather holey walking shoes. They did, and in no time at all he had new ones.

This was quite exciting for me, as it was only my second shop in four months. Although the one earlier in the week which netted slices of fruitloaf was more fun.

Anyway, what I am getting to, however slowly, is bookshops. I saw this photo somewhere a while back, and promptly stole it for use here. It clearly shows how we have all looked at the wrong side of books for decades. This is perfect for handsfree browsing.

The Short Knife

How hard are you willing to work for a carrot?

You couldn’t accuse the characters in Elen Caldecott’s The Short Knife of being lazy. This surprisingly topical historical novel is quite a thing. And by surprising I mean that Elen couldn’t possibly have foreseen the slavery business making the front pages as the publication date for her book grew near.

These slaves are white, and British, and their owners are also white, and more Saxon than British, but everyone has a bad side, whatever their nationality. In AD 454 the Romans have left Britain, and the Saxons have made the move to take over.

Mai and her sister Haf and their dad are poor, but live peacefully (in or near Wales), when their lives are interrupted, and ruined, by a few Saxon men. Much hardship and sadness follow, and the girls can’t be sure what will happen to them.

The story is told from two time perspectives; mostly from autumn AD 454 when the Saxons come, slowly leading up to the second one, where someone is giving birth at the same time as something vague but horrific has happened. So the reader both knows, and does not know.

You see both nationalities with all their faults, and some good sides. Having more than a measly carrot to eat is one of the good things about what might otherwise be considered pretty bad.

You feel you know what is happening, when Elen suddenly switches the truth of what we are seeing. And then again.

This is good writing, and a truly good story.

Looking back some more, and forward

When I had the idea to cover more [than my average] black fiction during June, I came up with a lot of titles and authors. And then I realised that many of these authors were white, which is what much of the criticism of books featuring black characters has been about. So I vowed to avoid those books, however great they may be.

I also came up with a list of books I wanted to read, but was unable to fit into one month. If nothing else, it would have been unfair to the books, as I wouldn’t have given them the time they deserved.

Two ‘recent’ books were Mare’s War by Tanita S Davis, and Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini. The former is about black American women serving in Europe during WWII, and the latter is about being an immigrant in a very white part of Canada. Neither is typical and I enjoyed them. Also, the two authors are not really household names, which adds to the fun.

Speaking of household names, I am getting a lot closer to reading Toni Morrison. And despite her being very well known, I have to admit to wanting to read Michelle Obama’s autobiography. And Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated which, while being a picture book, is so much more.

Mohinder’s War

Bali Rai’s short novel set in France during WWII is in one way an ordinary war adventure, showing the courage so many displayed while fighting the enemy and hoping to survive.

But the hero here is Mohinder Singh, a Sikh pilot with the RAF, who crash-lands his plane somewhere in occupied France. He is found by 13-year-old Joelle, who with her parents feed and shelter people who need help, be they members of the Resistance or as in this case, a foreign soldier.

This is what’s important. You learn, if you didn’t already know, that Indians fought for Britain in the war, flying from England. And you discover that the hero of a story like this can be a Sikh pilot, which will feel good for not just young Sikhs, but for anyone who might believe that the British don’t take ‘immigrants’ seriously, and who don’t know that many of them died for what was someone else’s country.

Mo is as brave as any RAF hero, and he brings with him his Sikh values, which he teaches to Joelle, as they run from the Germans.

The book begins with Mohinder’s funeral, at the grand old age of 105, and Joelle is there too. This helps, because at least you know that the two of them survived the war. The bad things they encountered were bad enough, and you don’t want to worry about whether they will make it.

I could do with more stories like this one. We might know that all sorts of people fought in the war, while not really understanding, unless it’s spelled out to us.

I had lemonade instead

It had been sitting on my desktop for weeks, that screengrab reminding me of an online event Meg Rosoff was doing for indie bookshop week, at Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall on Thursday evening. And for anyone who doesn’t already know, she’s my favourite author.

But still I drank lemonade instead.

Such is the power of lockdown, that anything out of the ordinary – like out of our house – commands immediate attention. So Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant and I toddled over to the garden of a neighbour in the next street, carrying plastic Marimekko glasses for the lemonade we’d been promised.

It was very nice. Pretty, Scottish garden, balmy evening sunshine in that typical Scottish way, and iced lemonade.

We talked about the forgotten grape in New Zealand. I’d had no idea of the seriousness of this. And waiting out bad weather on a small island in Loch Lomond. Fibre broadband and how pretty your pavement looks before and after. Not going to Nice with your school. Watching baby pigeons die. How cute the rabbits are as they eat your homegrown produce.

That kind of thing.

And when I tried this morning, just in case Meg on air was still there, somehow, I don’t believe she was.

But the lemonade was good.

Persepolis

There was obviously a hidden agenda when I gave the Resident IT Consultant three graphic autobiographies for Christmas. I wanted to read them myself.

I loved George Takei, as I said.

Then I went for Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I’d seen the film years ago and really enjoyed it. But I have to admit to having struggled to like the book. I am currently ‘resting’ between book one and book two.

This is about a period in Iranian history that I have lived through, and I read about it in the papers at the time. I felt I understood it reasonably, but Persepolis has me confused. I don’t know what side the girl’s parents are on. Neither does she. Or she doesn’t even know there are sides. I think.

After much confusion on both our parts, the Shah is gone and she has at least one dead uncle and most of her peers have escaped abroad. Her well-off parents are getting worried, and are sending her to Austria. That’s as far as I got.

I can see they are upset, and that the girl is confused and worried. And I remember feeling worked up on her behalf when she was in Vienna in the film. She looked so alone.

I’m not sure I will return to the book. We shall see.

The Honorary Consul

No, not the novel by Graham Greene. I read that a long time ago.

This is about the kind of person you sometimes need when in another country, if only to hand out a new passport if that’s what you require. They are surprisingly often not the same nationality as you, nor do they speak your language.

Honorary means not paid, and I’m guessing the post is usually taken for the honour (hah) or for making your business cards look great. The one I have had most experience of said openly – to a very kind and well-meaning person – that they had no interest in things Swedish.

Well, then.

The good news is that the post of Swedish Honorary Consul in Edinburgh has just been given to a Swede. What’s more, he speaks Swedish. And he’s got a good way with people.

OK, so he’s called Mike, but that might work better in an English-speaking environment, the city where he runs a group of bars and restaurants. I’m thinking this is an improvement to the bored monolingual solicitor type.