Category Archives: Reading

Mind the Gap

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

I’m an adult, so I knew where Phil Earle was going with his new book for Barrington Stoke. I’d read the same newspaper article he had when he was inspired. But it was still not obvious how he’d get the hero of his story there.

Phil has written about bleak teen lives before, but there was something that shocked me more than before in Mind the Gap. Mikey’s mother is a real piece of work and I’d happily do something to her myself.

Mikey’s father has died and he’s so lost that his best friend realises he needs to help Mikey before he loses his friend completely. But how do you find the voice of a dead man?

This is a tough story, but so much more inspiring because of it.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly

Will Duffy be riding into the sunset at the end of Adrian McKinty’s sixth novel about our – well, mine – favourite RUC detective? It’s quite obvious throughout the book that Duffy has had enough. More enough than before. You read and hope Adrian isn’t paving the way for killing Duffy, because it’d clearly be easier to kill someone tired of his current existence. But then he has a girlfriend and daughter to live for, although the relationship with Beth isn’t going well.

Adrian McKinty, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

Duffy is forced to dig his own grave, but as it comes first in the book, you hope it won’t be as final as it is made to look. Life in 1980s Northern Ireland seems harder than ever, and it’s not just the IRA or their Protestant counterparts. Duffy has always annnoyed his superiors, but never more than now.

Two attacks with bows and arrows, leaving one man dead, are mystifying the police, and as always it is hard to get witnesses to come forward, because they ‘didn’t see anything.’ Healthier that way.

I could be wrong, but the religious division felt worse than ever. And ironically some of Duffy’s strongest support comes from the Protestants around him. Although school friends are not always wrong, even at times like these.

He swears a lot, drives too fast and he drinks far too much, but Duffy is still someone you want for your friend. Just like Carrickfergus in 1988 appears to be more attractive than I suppose it was, back then. You want it to end well, even if this could be Duffy’s final mystery. You want his two fellow detectives to survive, too, and you’re even hoping for a rosy future for us all.

Hah.

And the bow and arrow thing is obvious once you know how and why.

Did I ever mention how much I love these books?

Night Shift

As well as the blog featuring her depression Debi Gliori has written a book about it. It’s a picture book for adults, and if it wasn’t for the very difficult subject, I would say it’s a beautiful book.

Well, it is a beautiful book, of course. It’s just that it makes for difficult reading, if you stop and think that that might be you. Or if you know that it actually is you.

Debi Gliori, Night Shift

There are few words in this book. Sometimes I think we use too many words and the thing we are wanting to talk about just disappears among all those words that weren’t necessary. Debi is brief and to the point, and as you read the short sentences, you look at the accompanying illustrations. And you feel.

Those clichés people use when they are trying to be helpful are in there. I’m guessing Debi has heard them a lot. ‘Chin up. Get a grip.’ You know. What does it mean?

Throughout the book someone like Debi is being chased by dark dragons. Until that moment when something small, but significant, turns up. Something that could make a difference.

At least for the time being.

Read this if you want to know what it’s like. Read this if you know what it’s like. Share it. More people need to know what it’s like.

Reckless and Swedish

Those Swedes are fortunate. Cornelia Funke has such a good relationship with her Swedish publishers that she wrote a short Reckless story, exclusively for them.

This does mean that most of you won’t be able to read it, but who cares? Strömkarlens fiol, en Stockholmsnovell, is sheer magic, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Set in the Stockholm of Mirrorworld we meet a new city. Old, obviously, but new to me. I think that’s the thing. Stories set in old Sweden usually don’t have this magical feel to them. This was as though Stockholm has grown up, and become a proper fairy setting like many others, all over the world.

Jakob and Fox travel to Sweden to try and retrieve a violin. It’s not just any old violin, but a real Strömkarl violin. A Strömkarl is that man who stands in a river/waterfall, playing and mesmerising those who hear him. And now one such instrument has been stolen, and a young girl’s life depends on it being found.

Short but exciting, with plenty of charm. I could read more of this kind of thing. And nice illustrations by Cornelia.

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day

Be Brave Little Penguin

Easier said than done, this being brave stuff. But with arctic conditions closing in on me, I felt for this poor little frightened penguin. His dad is a bit tactless, but his mum is lovely.

Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees, Be Brave Little Penguin

Giles Andreae has written this story about little Pip-Pip who doesn’t quite dare go in the water. It could be cold. (Probably is, down there.) There might be monsters. (Might. Probably not though.) Icy and fresh illustrations from Guy Parker-Rees didn’t do anything to entice me to consider getting in the water. I’m totally with Pip-Pip on this.

But, you know. Once dad has said his dad type comment on bravery, mum takes over and suggests that another possibility is that it could be absolutely fine, if Pip-Pip would only take the plunge. Literally.

And Pip-Pip does, and …

Sweet little story, showing young readers that fear is OK, and you will overcome that fear. Eventually.

But the water looks awfully cold, I have to say.

Another A G

She looks nice, my saviour from Not Reading. And the odd thing is that I – who obsess about meeting the people I admire – have never even Googled Ann Granger to see what she looks like. But by complete accident I came across this short interview with Ann talking about her new crime novel, The Dead Woman of Deptford, a couple of days ago.

There are a number of authors, whose books helped make me the Bookwitch I am, and Ann is one of them. In fact, she is the only one to encounter me at the stage when I was not reading books. At all.

With both Offspring fairly young I read to them, and perhaps managed a quick glance at magazine if they had the decency to sleep. At the same time. (I think we can deduce that I didn’t cope well with stress.) The Resident IT Consultant travelled a lot, so it’s not as if I was going anywhere.

Ann Granger, Say it with Poison

One day I went into the newsagent’s and bought a magazine purely on the basis of the free crime novel that came with it. This was the first Mitchell & Markby book, and as soon I’d got rid of Offspring in the evenings (by which I mean putting them to bed), I read one chapter every night. Even at such a slow pace, sooner or later you get to the end.

Not only did reading make me feel calmer, but it showed me the error of my ways; that I needed time for me, and that reading regularly – however little – was A Good Thing.

Because I really liked the Mitchell & Markby books, I worked my way through every one as they appeared. The drawback being that after the first few I had to wait for them to be written.

Then came the Fran Varady books, which I liked even better. And in between waiting for Ann to write, I read other books, and when Son started reading, I moved on to Roald Dahl with him, and then further upwards and outwards.

By the time Ann Granger began her third and fourth crime series, I was no longer able to keep up. But I always intended to give them a go…

Thank you, to the other Ann G! I owe you a lot.