Category Archives: Books

Five Hundred Miles

Five Hundred Miles is just wow! Kevin Brooks has done it again, and Anthony McGowan needs to look out. Generally I find the harsh settings of Kevin’s books quite hard to cope with, as I do the bleakness in his books. This one is no more cheerful, except the title tells you there might be something to look forward to.

Kevin Brooks, Five Hundred Miles

Cole and Ruben are the sons of a feared criminal, and live in a breaker’s yard in East London. You feel they are good boys, even though it becomes quite clear they are capable of both theft and violence.

When they unexpectedly come across a teenage girl who’s wanting to rescue a monkey from some gangster types in a pub, it’s not only the fact that she looks like their dead sister that makes them jump in to help.

I ought to dislike everything these boys stand for and what they do, but the way Kevin writes about them you just want to love them and be their friend. This is the kind of book I want to put into the hands of dyslexic teenagers everywhere, as well as capable readers. No one could help but love this book!

Idiocy

I never did read The Da Vinci Code, and I’m not likely to do so now, either. Dan Brown – or his publisher? – is planning to dumb it down to YA level. What a relief! Because young readers are so stupid, they couldn’t possibly read as complicated a book as TDVC, copies of which I understand litter second hand bookshops to the extent they can’t sell them.

If Dan Brown wants to do something for the young, but I’d rather he didn’t, to be honest, couldn’t he simply write a YA novel from scratch, like all these other people who feel they should give this ‘easy’ genre a go?

Then, who to dislike the most; J K Rowling or presidential hopeful Donald Trump? I’m with the many people who fervently hope this man will not succeed. But he does have the right to speak, even when what he says is so offensive that we’d prefer for him not to.

I think J K is correct in saying that we must be bigger and fairer and allow those who say bad things to keep saying them. Banning them will not help. Trying to re-educate them would, but might prove hard. It is very tempting to be as bad as, or worse, than those we fear and dislike. Lots of people find it pretty easy to disagree with a wealthy and famous author. The Guardian photos of the two make them look like pals, almost. But that is the newspaper’s fault, not J K’s.

To finish with something much nicer and easier, here is the link to the interview with Meg Rosoff on Swedish television, first broadcast on Sunday night. It’s on several times this week, but for those of us outside Sweden, it is available to watch online. Meg is on first, for 15-20 minutes, and she is on good form as ever. I think we should have programmes like this in Britain. You know, a bit about books and not just baking and dancing.

Meg Rosoff on Babel

Personally I’d like to know how to tie a scarf like Meg’s. Once you do, you will still look good, no matter what you wear with it. (Or maybe I wouldn’t, under any circumstances.) Meg’s new glasses are divine. Quite Harry Potterish, in a good way.

The Adventures of Alfie Onion

I loved this! My first (yeah, sorry about that) Vivian French book. Not my last.

Vivian French, Alfie Onion

Alfie Onion is an adorable boy with a somewhat misguided but romantic mother, and a lazy slightly older brother, Magnifico Onion, the seventh son of a seventh son. He is supposed to make his mother proud.

Unfortunately he likes his food too much and is too scared to make a truly good hero. (And we all know who’s the hero in this book.)

It’s a case of going to find the princess and to kiss her and become tremendously rich. And happy. Magnifico can’t go on his own, so Alfie has to go with him. There are ogres. And trolls, and a talking horse and a couple of mice and some magpies, and Alfie’s loyal dog.

Even when you know who has to kiss whom, this is fun and exciting. Great stuff. And how to get round the seventh son nonsense.

Cute and funny illustrations by Marta Kissi.

Immi

Your everyday things could be someone else’s treasure.

Immi lives somewhere cold, and she fishes for food through a hole in the ice. One day she catches a colourful, painted wooden bird instead. And after that there are many more such treasures; beautiful things of a kind she’s never seen before.

Karin Littlewood’s picture book about Immi shows the difference something new and beautiful can make to your life. In Immi’s cold, white world these bright and strange things are exciting.

Karin Littlewood, Immi

When the ice starts to melt, Immi decides to throw her wooden polar bear down the hole in the ice, and one day it appears on the warm and sunny beach where – possibly – Immi’s little surprises originated. (I’m imagining a sort of wormhole between somewhere cold and some place much hotter.)

Very beautiful.

Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool

Lucinda Belinda Melinda looks really nice, but that’s all that’s nice about her. This perfect girl in Jeanne Willis’s new picture book, illustrated by Tony Ross, is pretty dreadful. She knows how to look good, and she not only tells everyone else how to improve, but she goes right ahead and improves them.

People hide when they see her coming. Lucinda Belinda Melinda even has a go at her poor grandparents, who are not well-groomed enough. And she blow-dries the monster she meets in the park.

Well, she shouldn’t have done that…

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool

This is poetry. I really wanted to read the book aloud, but as usual was missing that child who would have loved it. Not sure the Resident IT Consultant wanted Lucinda Belinda Melinda to intrude on his history programme on television. But it just rhymes so very nicely!

And yes, my bottom does look big in those shorts.

The Lie Tree

Women can. That’s the message in Frances Hardinge’s award winning The Lie Tree. Being female does not mean being feeble, even 150 years ago. I really, really enjoyed this book, and can only say I should have read it a long time ago. I’m not in the slightest surprised it won the Costa, despite it being a ‘mere children’s book.’ This is fully grown fiction.

14-year-old Faith wants to be a scientist like her father, but back in the days when Darwin was an ugly word, it was seen as laughable that a female of any age could or should be doing anything but wait to be married, and then bear children.

Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree

The family move to a small island where the locals are suspicious of them. When her father is found dead, Faith vows to work out how he died. This is early crime fiction with a scientific angle, and Faith is young and a little naïve, but quite capable nevertheless.

Her mother tries to deal with matters in a totally different way, and Faith hates her for this. She just wants to clear her father’s name. And to be a scientist; to be allowed to be intelligent.

When she is patronised by the local doctor, also the coroner, ‘Faith wondered whether it would benefit the doctor’s investigation if he experienced a cliff fall first-hand.’ This made me laugh out loud.

Wonderful period crime novel with a twist.

And remember that women most difinitely can.

Wintersmith

After my recent close encounter with Steeleye Span, which made me feel so guilty, I decided the least I could do was give the Resident IT Consultant the CD on which they collaborated with Terry Pratchett.

Steeleye Span, Wintersmith

When we first met I he introduced me to the music of Steeleye Span. I had heard of them, but never really listened to their stuff. I soon found that the Resident IT Consultant’s taste in music wasn’t as totally hopeless as I perhaps had expected, and I listened to quite a bit of Steeleye Span for some years.

But then I slowly moved on to other kinds of music and haven’t listened as much to Steeleye Span in recent years.

It was the Resident IT Consultant who introduced me to Terry’s books as well. Or rather, when I realised there was this much talked about author I might want to find out more about, it turned out we already had one or two paperbacks on the shelves, and I was able to educate myself.

So here I am, listening to the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday present. Maybe I should let him have a go as well.

After that unexpected live performance at the Barbican for Terry’s memorial, I felt they had got ‘rockier.’ Maybe not. I suspect it’s more the difference between live – and loud – music on stage, and how it sounds on your system at home. Maddy Prior sings as beautifully as ever.

I especially liked hearing Terry’s voice on The Good Witch. It felt as if he was talking directly to me.