Category Archives: Books

The House of Light

I’ll start World Refugee Week with Julia Green’s The House of Light. Set in a grim future, it is still mainly about whether you will stand up for, and help, a refugee looking for a better place than the one they came from.

And maybe you also need a better place, in which case you are a refugee-in-waiting.

Julia Green, The House of Light

Set somewhere on the west coast of Scotland, Bonnie lives with her Granda after her mother left them. It seems her mum had had enough of the enclosed life they were forced into, where everyone is kept track of and no one can leave. At least not when they want to. And since she took their boat, it’s not as if they have the means to leave.

So Bonnie’s excited when she finds an abandoned boat on the beach, but then later also finds the boy who had come in it.

This is a lesson in humanity; what you do about someone who’s not meant to be there, and when you yourself have very little to eat, and you are always cold. But Bonnie’s been brought up right by her Granda, who has every reason to be proud of her.

It’s the kind of situation where you ask yourself what you would do if it happened to you. I don’t know about the washed-up stranger, but the world they live in seems a lot closer right now than any of us would like to think.

Describing a harsh life that you would automatically believe was in the past, it’s a bit of a shock to discover this might be our future. And that all countries are not as bad as this one…

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Owen and the Soldier

I’ve never considered talking to statues, or even those waxwork figures you might find yourself sharing a bench with, at first believing they are real.

But of course they are real! In some sense.

Lisa Thompson, Owen and the Soldier

In Lisa Thompson’s Owen and the Soldier, 13-year-old Owen talks to a stone soldier in the nearby park’s war memorial corner. His life isn’t great, and it helps to chat to this soldier who seems so good at listening.

And then he discovers that the council are going to make ‘improvements’ to the park and the old soldier is due to be removed. In the midst of trying to deal with his problems at home and the demands of school, he needs to save his soldier friend.

This story could empower readers both to tackle problems and to seek a conversation partner for when they need to talk. Brief, but lovely.

Respect

Some time ago I read a newspaper review of a book I myself had not only read and thoroughly enjoyed, but reviewed on Bookwitch.

The reviewer, whom I respect, had also liked the book, but puzzled me by describing it, using a direct untruth. It wasn’t even the borrowing from the blurb on the back thing. It was stating something about the story that was a lie.

Had the reviewer in this case not read the book, but caught an idea from something they’d seen? Or had they read and enjoyed the book, but still managed to misunderstand the context? Or plain forgotten, by the time they came to write the review?

I’m just curious.

For anyone seeing this and deciding to give the book a go because of what was claimed, it could be a disappointment, despite the book being so marvellous. Or they’d feel they were glad they were tempted, as they had now been introduced to a lovely book.

Many years ago – 15, in fact – I read a mention of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now in the Guardian. I ordered the book on the strength of me understanding it was about WWI. But that was me not reading properly; nothing to do with the Guardian. It caused me to read the first chapter of HILN several times while my head tried to make sense of the lack of WWI or the early twentieth century.

But once I’d done that, I was happy to have found the best book I’ve ever read. And all because of a misunderstanding, by me.

I’m still curious regarding this other book. Did a respected reviewer in a respected newspaper forget to read?

A is for Alibi

You can tell I’m a little behind, can’t you? Only by 33 years, but still. Sue Grafton was only known to me as the woman who wrote the alphabet crime novels. For years I didn’t know if they were good, quality, or just light crime. And when one day I came across A is for Alibi in a charity shop, I decided this was the right book to start with.

And then a few more years passed. When Sue died, not long ago, Sara Paretsky said some lovely things about her peer. And more recently she said some more, and someone else whom I respect also mentioned how important these books were to her, and I got the A book down from my bookcase.

How things have changed! Published in 1986, it is almost a lesson in modern history, what with phone messenger services, and typewritten case notes stuffed in desk drawers.

I enjoyed this tale about the ghastly man who was murdered, and whose second wife was believed to have done it. Now out of jail, she wants PI Kinsey Millhone to find out who really did kill him.

My instincts were right. Partly. The whole case was more complicated than was first obvious, and with a few more killings, Kinsey had a lot to look into.

Loved her comment at the start, that the police believe ‘murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right – a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.’

Also loved that Sue began by plotting to kill her ex-husband, but decided to write a book instead. Good idea.

OBE

Yay! Theresa Breslin gets an OBE for her services to literature. This is well deserved on many counts, as Theresa is a hard-working author and defender of libraries, and all sorts of other things. Here she is with Mr B in Charlotte Square, which is how we like to think of her. Them.

Theresa Breslin with Mr B

Theresa is much admired by so many, and at Bookwitch Towers I am occasionally chastised for not having read one of her books. Usually it’s me doing the same to Daughter, but she’s a fanatic fan of Theresa’s. (I bet it was that bribe of – I mean kind invitation to – tea and scones ten years ago!)

(Photo Helen Giles)

Cymera on the small screen

I have to confess I didn’t know there was going to be live coverage from Cymera on its Facebook page. But it was a nice thing to discover when my knees refused to go out this weekend. Had I known well in advance – about the filming, not so much the knees – I could have planned to make better use of it.

Thus it was that I did that time-wasting staring at Facebook post-cup-of-tea yesterday, and arrived just as Cymera started off on James Oswald, or JD as he was for the weekend, with his Sir Benfro hat on. Not that he wore a hat. But on the very small screen on my phone, the ‘camera eye’ unfortunately sat right on top of his head, leaving only the beard and the pink jacket visible. But I know what he looks like.

(Yes, the image was better on the computer. But it buffered an awful lot.)

JD Oswald and David Bishop

But anyway, I got to see James talking to David Bishop and that’s what I had wanted to do all this time, after discovering he was going to be there, and after reading the first Sir Benfro book.

Much of what he said has been covered in my own interview from four years ago, but I was struck by how James said he now has three books a year to write. Plus being a farmer. And then someone asked what he likes to read! As though the man would have time to read.

Actually, he does, and he listed a number of books, but like me, he forgets immediately, making it hard to recommend books. And he ‘cheats’ by reading audio books when out on his farming duties. It’s mostly fantasy. Seems he doesn’t like reading crime! (So before you send him yet more crime novels for a quote; don’t. Send him fantasy instead.)

There was a somewhat abrupt end to the filmed event, but it was far better than nothing!

Below is the ‘only good’ photo Clare Cain got of the Ghost event with Claire McFall, Rachel Burge and Helen Grant chatting to Sarah Broadley. I imagine they are hearing ghostly voices there. Or something.

Claire McFall, Rachel Burge, Helen Grant and Sarah Broadley, by Clare Cain

And even more below, is another stolen photo from Sunday morning’s event where Moira McPartlin chatted to Sarah Broadley [Sarah does seem to be everywhere, doesn’t she?].

Moira McPartlin and Sarah Broadley

Potions & Poisons

The programme self-destructed. Or so it seemed when I went back to double-check I had the right names and the title for the event. Because, you know, I am old, and I forget.

Tickets for Cymera

Anyway, for my first Cymera event on the first night, it was all potions and poisons, and they were far too cheerful about these dangerous substances. They were Melinda Salisbury and PM Freestone, talking to Laura Lam, and the rule for the evening was ‘no spoilers.’ Unfortunately, this rather cramped their style, as nearly everything they wanted to contribute could count as spoilers.

Apart from having to stop themselves from giving too much away, they seemed to get on very well, laughing like a group of friends out, chatting away about what they write about. I think the audience got what they wanted; they seemed to be knowledgeable about the same stuff, and as they filed into the Upper Hall, they looked like fans too. I know that sounds silly, but they did. Sometimes the, well, wrong people go to events.

I wondered what the bucket was for. One of the volunteer ushers carried around a bucket. Seems it was for money. (I sent mine by bank transfer…)

Pleasance, where the Cymera Festival is doing its thing this weekend was very pleasant. At least if you ignore the lift. I will never ever go in that lift again! Afterwards I was further alarmed when one of the very helpful and polite volunteers came up to me to say the lift was now activated..! I don’t think I want to know.

I arrived early. Again. Was ushered to the lanyard table, where I found Sarah Broadley and Lari Don, and also my nice orange badge. Came across one or two people I knew, including someone who also knew me, but we both agreed that while we had met, we had no idea where or when. LJ McWhirter sat in front of me at the ‘poisonous’ event and had much news to share.

The venue does look very good, nicely decorated, albeit with too many stairs. And that lift. Fashionable café and for the weekend a lovely bookshop stocked with all the science fiction, fantasy and horror you could want. Possibly more.