Category Archives: Humour

Murder Most Unladylike

Who doesn’t like a good murder set in a girls’ boarding school in the 1930s? I mean, it ticks a lot of my boxes. What about you?

Robin Stevens, Murder Most Unladylike

13-year-old students Daisy and Hazel set up detective agency Wells&Wong at Deepdean school, and it’s not long before ‘luck’ strikes, when their science teacher Miss Bell is found dead. Only for a while though, as the body disappears pretty swiftly and no one knows Miss Bell is a bit more dead than the head teacher makes out she is.

Daisy is rather bossy, not to mention fearless, while Hazel, who comes from Hong Kong, is more conventional and careful. A good detective agency needs both to succeed.

And you know, it’s rather hard to check people’s alibis when you are not the police and when there is no body or even a public acknowledgement that the corpse is indeed a corpse. But Daisy ferrets out where everyone was, and they work out what the motive might have been. Would you kill for the post of deputy head?

The detecting isn’t made any easier when you are a relatively innocent young girl, who doesn’t quite understand the undercurrents between the adults. Wells&Wong do work out who did it, and it puts them in more danger than expected.

As for me, I kept thinking it was turning out a little Midsomerish. When you deduct the number of dead people and the murderer, you’re not left with a whole lot of characters for a sequel. And I hope author Robin Stevens won’t kill more teachers and students in every book. Even a fairly dim parent would surely take their child out of a school like that?

Waffle Hearts

This is, quite simply, a very lovely book. I missed Maria Parr’s Waffle Hearts when it was first published, and am so glad to have caught it now. It was lying around when Son was visiting and he picked it up and informed me it had been translated by his friend (Guy Puzey), as though I ought to have known.

I’d never heard of Maria, either. Seems she’s big in Norway, and Waffle Hearts is the kind of book that has won a lot of awards, except we haven’t heard of it here. But think Astrid Lindgren and The Six Bullerby Children, and there you have it.

Maria Parr, Waffle Hearts

Set in Mathildewick Cove, somewhere near the sea in Norway, 11-year-old Trille (he’s a boy, before you go getting the wrong idea) lives with his family and relatives in this small hamlet. Probably smaller than a hamlet, actually. And next door lives Lena, who is his best friend. She is a bit crazy, and life is a lot more exciting when she’s around. It’s just that Trille fears she doesn’t like him as much as he likes her.

Each chapter features a new, mad idea Lena has come up with. They are not Pippi Longstocking stuff; just simple little things a child might think of, and which nearly always land the two children in some hot water, with someone or other of the family. Like the day they played Noah’s ark on Trillle’s uncle’s boat. You can imagine. Or when they advertised for a dad for Lena. (Easily confused with a puppy.)

There are waffles. The best in the world, made by Trille’s lovely great-aunt. Her brother, Trille’s grandpa is a wonderful kind of grandpa. Lena gets concussion rather a lot, and there is much scope for things going wrong when you toboggan across roads. In fact, ‘don’t try this at home!’

It’s not just sweetness and old-fashioned happiness, however. It gets sad, too. Really sad.

You’ll want to read this, even if they do spread butter and sugar on their waffles.

(Charming illustrations by Kate Forrester.)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

This is the book that got banned. Possibly more than once, but certainly last year, which caused some Idaho teenagers to arrange for the book to be handed out for free to the 350 students who had protested against the ban by the local school board. This was on World Book Night, and you probably heard about it in the media. I did, but forgot what the book was, so am glad that Andersen have decided to re-issue the book. Because you’ll want to read this one.

Sherman Alexie lived a slightly similar life to that of his main character, Arnold Spirit. Close enough that it’s a sort of autobiography, but not completely.

Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Arnold has a pretty rotten time of it, and I’m guessing that while Sherman sounds fine in his afterword, his teenage years were no picnic either. He – they – have grown up on a reservation, and at the age of 14 Arnold decided to go to the white school in town, rather than the school on the reservation.

It’s a brave decision, and his life was just as hard as you’d expect, because once you’ve made the change, you don’t automatically belong in either place. He’s intelligent, which is good. He’s foolhardy and brave, which is just as well.

The story proves that people can change, though. His white classmates start off prejudiced, and slowly change. Some of them, some of the time. But while Arnold meets kindness, eventually, and success both in the classroom and on the sportsfield – much to his surprise – his private life is very, very hard. Lack of money and too much drink is the least of his troubles. He doesn’t mince words, and it’s possible to see why some people wanted the book banned.

Not wanting to spoil it for anyone, I won’t go into detail. But it’s tough. And after everything, he still seems to emerge smiling.

This book gives you hope. I just wish there will be a reason to feel hopeful.

A Guide to Sisters

Quite frankly, I expected A Guide to Sisters to be a bit cute and a bit ordinary, the way so many picturebooks for little girls are. Cute is fine, but sometimes you want more.

And you know what? Paula Metcalf has written a very amusing and unusual book, which is nicely – but not too cutely – illustrated by Suzanne Barton.

Paula Metcalf and Suzanne Barton, A Guide to Sisters

There is a guide to tickling, which includes the tickliest body parts of your little sister (did I mention this guide is for the older sister?), as well as showing the reader how to be comfortable while having a good grip on that little sister as you tickle.

Little sisters are like a loaf of bread to begin with, but not one you are allowed to butter. Occasionally there are BOGOF sisters (=twins). They cry and poo and give you lovely kisses. And then they bite. Apparently you are not supposed to give them away, either.

You will always be better than your little sister. You can cheat her out of almost anything if you do things right; ‘one for you, two for me…’ And if you play your cards right, she will tidy your room for you.

But when all is said and done, they are not too bad, those little sisters.

Cat Magick

Di Toft’s Cat Magick is the perfect book for readers who like talking cats. And witches. (But then, who doesn’t?)

Pye is a cat prince, and he meets up with witch-to-be Suki under dramatic circumstances. Life in England post-Cromwell is not good for either cats or witches. They are blamed for causing the plague, and are caught and strung up at the nearest tree.

Di Toft, Cat Magick

Talking cats are obviously more suspect than most, but Pye is such a chatty boy that it’s hard for him to shut up. However, he is brave(-ish) and cares for Suki and he wants to help her, and also the country. Possibly. He needs a little urging to do the right thing, but he is  brave.

The hellcats are a problem and so is dark magic. The rat population is growing rapidly, until we have rats who have never seen a cat, and are not scared of them.

So the question is; how are Suki and Pye going to solve the problem of this hate campaign against them, and the little matter of them being caught by some nasty creatures?

Read Cat Magick and find out. It’s quite interesting to see how a small (cat-) tweak of real history brings home so much better what it was like back then.

The Whispering Skull

Like meeting up with old friends. Jonathan Stroud’s second Lockwood & Co novel returns the reader to some favourite characters, and you just know you will have fun together. Again.

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co - The Whispering Skull

Lockwood and Lucy and George have a nicely functioning style of searching for ghosts and getting rid of them, making London and the world a safer place. A year has passed since Lucy joined the company (please tell me this doesn’t mean they will soon be too old to deal with ghosts?), and they are about to start work on a new and dangerous hunt for a mirror that kills.

The three keep running into their rivals from Fittes, and this new case sees our friends actually having to cooperate with them. But it’s not always those who seem to be your enemy that you ought to worry about the most. What about the – illegal – green skull in the jar they keep in the house? Friend or foe?

You have to admire Jonathan for creating this modern day, alternative London, which at the same time feels really Victorian. His core group of characters might follow the standard pattern of two boys and one girl, but Lucy as the narrator makes for a different kind of story. She’s also very talented. Perhaps not more so than the others, but their skills complement each other.

This is quality reading for young and old. Bring on those ghosts, but first hand me my rapier!

Another year, another bear

Have I actually read Paddington Bear? Or just selected excerpts? (I do realise you don’t know. I was musing rhetorically.)

Anyway, I have now seen the film about dear, sweet Paddington. And honestly, it was a totally unplanned for bear-y coincidence to be quite so bear-centred around the New Year.

But I am bearing up fine. Thank you for asking.

Paddington

Don’t you just hate it when your head gets stuck in the toilet seat?