Category Archives: Reading

a Boy his Bear and a Bully

Be brave.

That’s not easy, I know.

In a Boy his Bear and a Bully, Katie Flannigan writes about Scott who takes his teddy to school with him. He’s not alone, as Rosie brings her unicorn to school too. But Duncan, he’s the mean one, bullying Scott every day.

And then Buttons – that’s the teddy – disappears.

I think we all know what happened. But how to sort it? Well, it’s Dress Up Day, and wearing his dinosaur suit, Scott finally knows what he has to do. It still takes courage.

I hope readers of this book will be able to be braver than I would be.

Illustrations by P J Reece.

TTFN

I’ve been lucky. Or perhaps I should call it successful, if that’s not too big a word to use? Because I have achieved what I set out to do, fourteen and a half years ago.

I have done writing. And reading. I have travelled and I’ve met a lot of great people. I have been to fun events. Occasionally I was almost a little bit famous, in the right circles. Not too much, but still.

Giving this up is hard. So hard that I am going to take a little break first. This means there are few promises as to what will come, but I suspect I will find it impossible to stay away completely. Expect a trickle of witchy stuff for a while. Maybe.

But right now I have one or two things to do, and I need to attend to them without feeling I’ve not written today’s blog post yet.

There are some books outstanding. Some books are also outstanding. I imagine I will tell you about them. Later.

I wasn’t sure how to choose my ‘when’ moment, but after so long of no live events and no live meetings with authors, I feel Saturday’s Pitch Black Humour is a good one to finish with. After all, it featured a Finnish crime writer, a local[ish] author closely connected with Bloody Scotland, which in turn is set in my current home town, plus my favourite author from Fort William, who I’d never heard of before Bookwitch, and who now features big in our minds, here at Bookwitch Towers.

So, I’m pausing with a smile. A laugh, even.

No Man’s Land

It wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting, this dystopian story by Joanna Nadin. It’s actually quite scary, in more ways than one.

Set in a future that doesn’t feel either all that far off, or terribly unlikely, it can certainly scare us adults. Whether young readers of a similar age to the main character – Alan – who is ten, will read it as ‘merely’ a futuristic adventure, I can’t say.

Albion is a far-right country, getting ready for war with the foreigners of Europe. There are pockets of non-Albion areas, like Caledonia (good old Scotland!) and also No Man’s Land, which is where Alan and his little brother are sent by their Dad, to be safe.

They don’t want to go, and – at first – they don’t like it there. But you get used to things. Just as you will continue longing for that which you miss very much.

Alan knows he’s no hero. He just does his best.

And I will pray that our future looks nothing like this Albion place.

The Dying Day

Persis Wadia is still as awkward as she was in Vaseem Khan’s first book about this pioneering female detective in 1950s Bombay. She shoots people (villains) and she solves the crime[s] put in front of her, despite ‘just being a woman’ in this man’s world. But Persis is also a little bit inept at romance. Which of course makes it all the more fun. Will they get there in the end, or is it going to be such slow going that they never do?

This time someone has stolen a book. But not just any book; Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which was being translated by a specialist, who has also disappeared. Possibly with the book, or it could be a coincidence.

Time is of the essence, and then Persis is handed another crime to solve. This one is a supposed suicide, which quickly becomes a murder case.

As in the first book, it’s fun to see Bombay as it was, shortly after independence, and to do so not through the eyes of a man, or a white person. We learn more about Persis, her past, her friends, even her lover. And her colleagues are growing, becoming more interesting, promising more books with more depth.

Catch that baby!

Old people are said to return to thinking much more of their early days. Well, permit an ancient Bookwitch to look back on her early witch days.

I was fairly pleased about this; him learning to read, and felt that seven was a fine age, and all that. I’d obviously read to him and Daughter before this, at bedtime, and even at other times. I think.

But just as I have told myself that ‘next time round when I’m forty again, I shall do things differently’, as though that was even possible, I am feeling that next time Offspring are babies I will start their literary education much sooner.

A bit like Anne Rooney. She’s blogging on ABBA about her grandchildren. Her children too. She’s clearly someone who has been terribly ambitious and who has been able to carry through with her plans on building bookworms. I kind of envy her. Both for her stamina and her general knowledge of all that is worth bringing to a very young child. You must read her post. Because I will not steal that adorable photo of MB and her baby brother NB reading a pdf of Anne’s next book, where the older sister entertains her minuscule brother to the extent that his little eyes almost pop.

That’s early reading for you!

I did not read to Offspring before they were born. I should have. Although, there was a bath book, which got a lot of use. And board books. I hope I did all right. They can read now, if that helps. Write too.

The Drowned Ones

The third instalment of Ellen Renner’s trilogy about Storm, the witch of more than one of the elements, follows in the footsteps of Storm Witch and Under Earth. It has the same reassuring feeling of belonging with your people as I discovered in Storm Witch, and which moved me so.

Admittedly, Storm starts off in a dire situation here, because where would a heroine be without her cliffhanger? She’s with her enemies, or at least some of them. She’s not really sure who she likes, or trusts, any longer. My vote would always be for Nim, despite what he did.

But there are the others; ones she started believing one thing of, only to wonder if there’s more to them. In a really good story there will be.

So, out at sea, all tied up, in the company of the one who killed her beloved mother. And then ‘rescued’ by someone who in turn wants to kill her own mother. There’s a lot of killing of mothers. And brothers. It’s how you make enemies.

I was wondering if Storm had left her own island behind for all time, but we do get to visit it again. I’m glad, because it reinforced that feeling I had of belonging.

For the rest of the time Storm and her friends and enemies have to work hard to restore some sort of sense to their respective worlds. Just because your tribe are responsible for doing bad things, doesn’t mean some of them aren’t all right. Just like you.

Bad Dog

It will be some time before I relax when we go to the park again. All those dogs running around.

Bad Dog is Alex Smith’s second book featuring DCI Kett, and he is no more sensible this time round. He risks his life, while his three young daughters are at home, missing their mum, but thankfully being looked after by someone who is good at it.

This one, as you might have gathered, is about dogs. And I’m sure you can work out what a bad dog might do. (Don’t read this with a meal!) But I like Robbie Kett and his fellow detectives, and even the boss, Clare, when I can remember that he’s not a girl, and that Clare is his surname.

There are dog attacks in the woods. There are some quite unsavoury characters living nearby. In fact, there are a number of neighbours, and you need to take your pick as to which way to direct your suspicions. (I was mostly right. But that only makes you even more worried about how things will develop.)

The girls are lovely, if somewhat wild and noisy. They, and I, would like DCI Kett to stay at home in a calm and orderly fashion for a little while, but that will never happen. Especially not after that cliffhanger.

Death in the garden

I am quite a powerful witch, when all is said and done. A mere few weeks ago I was sitting in my garden, chatting to a visiting friend. I mentioned how tired I was of online book launches, and that now someone could just have a small gathering in their garden, to celebrate a new book. An hour later the invitation arrived. Alex Nye must have good ears to have heard my instructions so clearly.

Alex also had the good sense to arrange fine weather, and we had one of those rare, but warm and sunny September evenings. To, erm, celebrate her new book about Death. It’s a similar Death to the one you might have encountered in other people’s books, except here she – yes, she – is being interviewed by a journalist, over afternoon tea.

The Resident IT Consultant gave me a lift there, and we only drove the wrong way twice. He then very wisely went for a walk – instead of drinking prosecco – because that’s what Resident IT Consultants do.

Me, I said hello to Clare Cain, Alex’s publisher, said hello to a can of nicely chilled Cola (I must learn how to do that ice in a bucket thing!) and then went over to bother Sarah Broadley and Kirkland Ciccone. Thanks to social media it didn’t feel quite as long ago as two years, but it was still nice to see someone who is not of the witch clan in person. Even young master Nye came up and talked to me, when he was not taking lots of photos and chatting about drones.

The star of the ‘show’ was the Nye dog, who was literally in stitches after a recent incident, but who walked among the guests and only looked longingly at the sliced meat for about 90% of the time. Kirkie did his best to feed me, but that sausage roll had to sort of do the rounds a few times before there was a taker. Paper plates are hard to balance. Especially after such a long break in the ‘being out’ business.

Alex did a reading from her book, even the birds grow silent, but I missed most of it due to me trying to arrive not too early. She has a nice forceful way about her, so I’m certain not a single person left without a copy of the book. Except for me, who instead returned it. (I’d been sent more than one.)

We chatted about the book festival. Kirkie asked the French intern who had come along, about his childhood yoghurts, and was disappointed to learn there was no exciting French involved that he’d failed to understand. (Never ask!) The garden was – and probably still is – filled to the rafters with lovely things growing in ‘quite a few’ pots.

The house, when I passed through on the way to the Ladies’ proved to be filled with books. Very suitable. And Kirkie clearly knows his way around, making what looked like a bucketful of coffee for Clare as she womanned her bookstall.

Then the Resident IT Consultant came and took me home again. A different way.

Freeze

It was probably just a dream. I mean, nightmare.

In Chris Priestley’s Freeze for Barrington Stoke, he tells the story of four teenagers (are they even that? Perhaps Y7, Y8?) who have had bad dreams the night before. Except they can’t remember what they were about. Maybe they had the same dream?

At school a supply teacher has come to talk about writing creepy stories. And suddenly the ideas seem to just flow, and all four of them agree to talk to the class about their particular, creepy ideas. And what about the strange girl who turns up late?

Maya, the main character, seems to really freak out during each reading, but no one else does.

Scary snowmen, scary ice, scary corpses from the nearby cemetery, and … You get the idea.

And then the four finally realise they did have the same bad dream, and they need to wake up! And, yeah…

(Very Scary Illustrations by Chris.)

My Name Is Jensen

Today you get to do the reading. Heidi Amsinck is a UK Dane, who’s written a Nordic noir novel – My Name Is Jensen. The cover alone is enough to convince me. (Although, I do believe that red stuff is blood, not snow. Still, a gorgeous, snowy cover.)

Here is chapter three from the book, where we see the main female character, and her – also female – boss. I’d say things are not going well.

Tuesday 11:49

From the corner office of Dagbladet’s editor-in-chief, Copenhagen’s City Hall Square looked like an abstract painting, a damp mess of white pavements, yellow buses, red tail lights and people rushing to get out of the sleety weather. Jensen watched a group of pedestrians waiting patiently at the kerb for the lights to go green, though they could easily have crossed the road between the cars. In London, you never saw this respect for the rules, this reluctance to stand out from the crowd.
‘Sorry, I’m late,’ said Margrethe, barging into the room carrying a leather shoulder bag and a takeaway coffee.
She settled her tall, broad-shouldered form into the swivel chair behind her desk with a grunt. ‘Had to go and see the prime minister,’ she said.
‘Oh?’
‘Bloody waste of time, before you ask,’ she said, taking off her steamed-up glasses and wiping them on her jumper.
Jensen was about to open her mouth, grateful for the opportunity to delay the conversation she knew was coming, but Margrethe held up a hand to stop her. ‘Save it,’ she said, putting her glasses back on and reaching for her coffee.
Jensen shrank in her chair. Margrethe was one of the few people whose opinion she respected. It was Margrethe who had plucked her from the local paper as an eighteen-year-old without as much as a school leaver’s certificate and given her a job at Dagbladet. Two years later she had sent Jensen to London as the newspaper’s correspondent. There had been plenty of dissenting voices, but Margrethe had ignored them all.
She was taking her time, adding three sachets of sugar to her coffee. The wall behind her was lined with photographs of her all-male predecessors, going back to Dagbladet’s nineteenth-century origins. Compared to Margrethe, with her long grey hair, fleshy face and penetrating gaze behind thick lenses, they looked like a bunch of friendly uncles.
‘I can’t work you out, Jensen,’ said Margrethe, stirring her coffee with a pencil. ‘I fought to keep you when we closed London. They told me not to do it, that you were a pain in the arse, but I ignored them because I always thought you were a great reporter. I sacked someone, an old colleague with five years to retirement, so you could get a job back here. I protected you, took you off the daily beat to give you time for your so-called research, and this is how you repay me?’
She paused, sipping from her cup without taking her eyes off Jensen, who knew better than to interrupt her boss mid-flow.
‘You’ve been back, what, three months? And tell me, how many articles have you written?’
Jensen wriggled her hands under her thighs and looked out of the window at the square below. As she watched, a man standing too close to the kerb got sprayed with dirty slush by a passing taxi.
‘I don’t know exactly. Ten?’ she offered.
‘Four.’Margrethe rifled through a pile of papers on her desk and pulled out a slim file. ‘Let’s see, ah yes, your reportage on Denmark’s marginal communities.’
‘Took me ages to write.’
‘It’s horseshit. No heart,’ said Margrethe, tossing it to one side. ‘Next, your feature on that dramatic plane crash in Sweden before Christmas.’
‘I received a lot of nice emails afterwards.’
‘Bollocks. I’ve read more engaging articles by sixteen-year-olds on work experience. Want to look at the other two?’
‘No,’ said Jensen.
‘Right, so talk to me. What’s going on?’
‘I need time to settle in.’
Margrethe pretended to consult a printout on her desk. ‘You’ve had three months, and while you’ve got yourself nice and cosy, we’ve lost . . . let me see . . . two thousand, eight hundred and seventy subscribers. Any more staff cutbacks, and we may as well switch off the lights.’
Jensen nodded. She had seen the figures. Despite ever-more desperate forays into digital, the 120-year-old newspaper was dying on its feet. Bar a couple of overworked proofreaders, the subs had all gone, and the section editors had to lay out their own pages. The few tired journalists who remained barely had time for more than holding up a microphone to a succession of so-called experts, let alone going digging for stories. You could no longer read Dagbladet confident of finding out what had happened in the world in the previous twenty-four hours, in order of importance. The newspaper was now a personalised ‘experience’ with stories churned out online at regular intervals through the day, clickbait first. Plenty of online readers, but you needed a handful of those to earn as much as you did from one paper subscriber. The traditional business model was irreparably broken, and Dagbladet was yet to find a new one that worked.
‘Give me a chance to—’
‘I have,’ Margrethe snapped. ‘Trust me, if you’d been anyone else, I’d have kicked you out months ago.’
Jensen hung her head.
‘So, whatever is going on with you, fix it.’
‘Yes.’
‘Now leave,’ said Margrethe. ‘I am busy. There’s been another murder. It’s all over Twitter.’
The bells in the tower of City Hall struck twelve noon in the familiar sing-song chime that reminded Jensen of the midday news on the radio in her late grandmother’s kitchen. That was the problem. The bells, Magstræde, City Hall Square, Dagbladet: on the surface they were the same as always, but Copenhagen had changed while she had been away. She felt like a stranger in her own city. Not that she would ever be able to explain that to Margrethe. Her boss had no patience with feeble emotions.
Only one thing impressed Margrethe: a good story.‘ Still here?’ she said, looking irritably at Jensen.
‘Wait. I have something,’ Jensen said, making a swift decision.
‘It better be good.’
‘It was me who found the guy. This morning, in Magstræde.’
‘You did what?’
She told Margrethe everything, leaving only Henrik out of it. Margrethe’s body language softened gradually until she was leaning forward on her elbows, the coffee growing cold by her side.
‘It’s a great story,’ she said when Jensen had finished. ‘“Second homeless man found dead on Copenhagen street. Dagbladet’s reporter discovers the body.”’
‘It might be. I just—’
Margrethe’s voice hardened. ‘I said it’s a great story. This joke of a government has finally gone too far. Now beggars are being killed in the street. Its cruel, heartless, bankrupt policies are bringing shame on the country. Denmark is better than this.’
She waved Jensen off. ‘Write a feature. Eyewitness account.