Category Archives: Reading

Amtrak tales

If you thought leaflets were the only things to be brought home when the Resident IT Consultant returned from the other side of the big water last month, you were wrong, if hopeful.

Not unexpectedly, Amtrak have a magazine on their trains. I suppose they need to, seeing how slow the trains go. 😉  You might run out of books. When the Resident IT Consultant travelled the current issue was The Kids Issue, which was a suitable thing to bring me.

I thought it was really quite nice. As with many ‘kids’ things, not all was aimed at children, but was about them. But it was all good. There’s an excellent interview with Michelle Obama, done by a 12-year-old. I learned new things about the former First Lady, and that’s saying quite a bit.

There are games. There’s a nice photo travel piece by someone travelling with her young child. There’s an article about food. ALMA winner Jacqueline Woodson has written about travelling by train with her best friend when they were young.

Best of all were the four stories from real life written by author Lois Lowry, whom I’ve never heard of but wish I had. She tells of four trips by train, beginning when she was five in 1942, and ending with Lois at 25 travelling with her baby son. These were interesting and so full of life, and I could have gone on and on reading about her life on trains. Possibly even off trains, too.

In all, this magazine was the right thing to have brought home for me to read.

Black Water

Occasionally you encounter something you never knew you’d want to know about. For instance this business of smuggling in Dumfries in the late 18th century. Even if it features Robert Burns, and it’s based on real events.

Barbara Henderson, Black Water

Barbara Henderson has written Black Water, a novella on the subject of smuggling, which is both interesting and exciting. The main character is 13-year-old Henry who sometimes gets to go out and help his Exciseman father.

Set mostly in and around the sea in February 1792 it’s mostly cold and wet, and there is little prospect of drying out when there are smugglers to be caught and the locals are on the ‘wrong’ side and not helping.

Henry is a good boy, except with figures, and he works as hard as the grown men he rides out with. He also seems to have found out some truths about the local people that his father is unaware of.

As a law-abiding witch I wanted to be on the side of the Excisemen – and they include Robert Burns – but like Henry I can see that the other side also has a point.

And then there is poetry.

This is the kind of book that has it all, being an easy read that both educates and entertains.


Ten years ago I had no inkling that there’d be a Gone world, or that I would be desperate to read every single book, no matter how gory or scary or disgusting. There’s always been both excitement as well as human decency (and also the complete opposite) as the basis of Michael Grant’s books.

Ten years ago I had no idea who Michael was, or how much I’d come to admire his writing. Now, six Gone books and three Monster books later, the Gone world has ended. No, I don’t mean that kind of end!

Unless I do? It was hard enough to suffer alongside the teenagers in their Gone bubble world, but at the end of it you expected it to be just that. And then a mere four years on, there is more trouble of the same kind, and some, but not all, of them have more trials to go through.

Michael Grant, Hero

The Rockborn Gang encounter a Very Bad Villain in each of the three books. At the end of each story, you like to hope that this was it, until you meet the Really Bad Guy in Hero, the last of the series.

Dekka is the one who’s been in every single one, doing sterling work throughout. She’s not enjoying it, but she does what she has to, and then some. All the Rockborns do, even when they have to look back on a day when they’ve killed people, and often good people at that.

You glow with pride at how well they deal with what they and their country face in Hero. You can tell this might not end well.

Michael concludes the series in his trademark style. I’ll say no more.

(Yes I will. I don’t think I want to see the film. There’s only so many disgusting creatures I can cope with, and my imagination is doing just fine without actual pictures, thank you very much.)

When We Get to the Island

This new children’s story by Alex Nye, When We Get to the Island, wasn’t what I had been expecting. It’s the story about Hani who’s an illegal refugee in Scotland, and Mia, who’s a teenager in care, also in Scotland. They run away, separately, but are soon thrown together, and continue running away, helping each other.

Hani wants to find his sister Reena who has been removed from the place they have been forced to live and work like slaves. Mia just wants to not have to live with her foster parents or go to the school where she is bullied.

Alex Nye, When We Get to the Island

So I rather thought we’d follow a hard and slow search for where Reena might have gone, coupled with the idyllic island Mia wants to return to, maybe with success at the end. Maybe not.

Instead this is a fast-paced tale of two young teens who really run away, but also towards the place Hani thinks Reena has been taken to. And in place of a difficult search, we have a Thirty-Nine Steps kind of chase all over Scotland, with Hani’s enemies in hot pursuit.

It’s probably not as realistic as it might have been, but it’s a page-turner where you keep wanting to know what will come next. I couldn’t see how this could end up well, even if Reena and the island were to be found. After all, refugees without papers are never in a good position, and a child in care will not suddenly grow loving relatives to look after them instead.

The Book of Dust – The Secret Commonwealth

I hope I will be forgiven for having had one major thought in my head when reading the second Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. Yes, I obviously wanted to see where the story was going, and what the adult Lyra was like, having found her fascinating in Lyra’s Oxford. Also what we’d see of Malcolm, and maybe Alice, from La Belle Sauvage.

But uppermost in my mind was to wonder how Philip would portray Nur Huda el-Wahabi, whose name so many of us hoped to see win the auction to have their name in this book. It was such a beautiful working together, with very little fighting to win. I know Philip warned that there was no guarantee for what kind of person he’d give the winner’s name to, but I felt he’d do Nur proud. He did. It took most of the nearly 700 pages before we got to her, but she was as perfect as you’d have wanted.

Thank you, Philip. And I also enjoyed the two other ‘real’ people, Bud and Alison.

Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth

And you know, the rest of the book’s not bad either.

Were it not for its sheer physical size, I’d have said reading it was the perfect relaxation. Well, it was, really.

I’d been expecting more of the seemingly cosy Oxford we’ve been in before, but whether Philip had always intended it like this, or he has been ‘inspired’ by our own current society, I don’t know. But there is much threat in Oxford, both subtle and quite open and violent. And Lyra and Pantalaimon are not getting on. This is very disturbing, and you just want to knock their heads together and make them see sense. Pan is the more mature of them, actually.

So the powers that be – and we can’t be entirely certain who they really are – are chipping away at everything and everyone. This makes the move from Oxford into Europe more welcome, because you can see this must happen. The Oakley Street organisation is still a bit reassuring, but for how long? And Malcolm as a secret agent is a little surprising, perhaps. I know he started twenty years ago, but… Maybe I’m prejudiced.

Well, I’m not going to list what happens, nor how it ends. It’s a very enjoyable read, and I hope Philip is much further along with the third book than he has let on. This ending was almost a cliffhanger of a cliffhanger.

McTavish on the Move

Meg Rosoff’s and the Peachey family’s dog McTavish is back. It’s time for a move in McTavish on the Move. (Well, I suppose the title gives it away.) I understand Meg has recent experience of moving house – and it’s been put to good use, making everything pretty realistic. Except possibly for the ease with which Ma and Pa Peachey sell and buy the houses involved in this move.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish on the Move

Pa seems to have had a personality makeover, which terrifies his family, but in the end his sunny disposition (hah) and general happiness make for a positive moving experience.

Although Betty isn’t keen, and McTavish notices. Trust him, though. He can work out what to do, and he does so with gusto. My own first days at new schools would have been vastly improved with the McTavish magic.

I believe this was the fourth – yes, it was – and last McTavish story. If it has to be goodbye, it’s a heart-warming and moving one. (Sorry.)

And one can always live in the hope that Pa’s personality reverts permanently to his more morose behaviour.

Lobster Life

The Resident IT Consultant is standing in for me today. He threw himself at one of the Norwegian books from Norvik Press that turned up recently. Over to his Lobster review:

Lobster Life (Et hummerliv) by Erik Fosnes Hansen is the story of a year or so in the life of Sedd, a 13-year-old boy living with his grandparents who manage a Norwegian mountain hotel.

Erik Fosnes Hansen, Lobster Life

Sedd knows that, eventually, the hotel will be his to inherit. But he knows very little about his own origins. His mother, ‘taken by time’ when he was a toddler, is scarcely a memory. Of his father he knows nothing. Sedd is precocious, always with adults and possesses knowledge that goes far beyond that of the average 13-year-old. Nevertheless his youth means he is not a very reliable interpreter of the events that are going on around him.

All is not well in the hotel. It is the 1980s and Norwegians are abandoning hotels at home for package tours abroad. The bank manager, who has kept the hotel alive for years on extended credit, suddenly dies. Gradually clues to the hotel’s problems accumulate. But Sedd cannot see these for what they are. He has his own concerns. Who was his mother? Who was his father? Why is there a mysterious locked room in the hotel?

A new bank manager appears, and his daughter proceeds to pester Sedd in every way imaginable. There is a growing sense of doom. Things are not going to end well. And they don’t. Nevertheless this is a comic book. Sedd’s accounts of those he comes into contact with, and his adolescent perspective, provide a succession of amusing accounts.

I thoroughly recommend it.

(Translation by Janet Garton)