Category Archives: Reading

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

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Slaves for the Isabella

For entering a series by reading book five, I did quite well, I thought. In a way, time travel is time travel, and you can guess at things. At the same time, there were facts I didn’t know or understand, like why Joe wants to see Lucy so much.

Author Julia Edwards offered me the fifth and newest instalment of her educational, historical series The Scar Gatherer to read. If I understand it correctly, we have Joe, who travels in time with the aid of a St Christopher pendant. It – sometimes – takes him to somewhere in the past, and then he leaves it there, so that Lucy can call him back, in case he is returned to his own time. Until the last time, when he really does leave.

The thing about Joe’s time travels is that he meets the same people every time. They are different in the past and they are living in different pasts, but Lucy is Lucy and her parents are her parents. They don’t remember Joe, but he remembers them. The other characters are also recurring characters, but they play different roles each time. Except that Tobias is always a really unpleasant older boy.

This time the pendant takes Joe to Bristol during the slave trade era in the early 1790s, after the abolishment of slavery. The fact that Britain agreed not to trade in slaves, meant only that they didn’t trade new slaves. Lucy’s family are wealthy [this time] and depend on slaves and sugar plantations. Joe pops ‘ back home’ once or twice, and has the opportunity of learning more historical facts, which he then takes with him as he sees Lucy again.

Primarily, this is a way for middle grade readers to have fun as they learn about history. I learned a few new things myself, and that’s really the point about time travel.

I’m guessing that Joe travels in chronological order, as he’s been further into the past before, and I imagine he will meet Lucy again in a less distant past next time.

Eating the stale bread

You can’t mention Dave Allen’s stale bread too many times. It’s good enough to bring up again (the sketch, not the bread), which is why I’m doing so. (The idea that you can’t have today’s freshly baked bread until you’ve eaten the stale bread, and then tomorrow you…)

Usually at this time of year I plan what I will read over Christmas. I might have one or two really special books, and I decide that reading them will be my Christmas present to myself.

And every year I remember – too late – that I never have time to read, between getting food onto the table and taking it off again, and the odd other bit of household chore. The kind that’s quicker to do yourself than to ask someone to help you with.

So right now I’m reading a Christmas book. There are more than two weeks left, and whereas I’ve made no preparations at all, I’ve been feeling slightly off-colour, so am permitting myself to read.

It’s the one that arrived last week, but isn’t published until May next year, and it was either read it now or find that it has to be hurriedly done in five month’s time. Because somehow Christmas, the tables and fifty other books got in between me and it.

And, well, I reckon we can always buy food instead of cooking. Had a quick look online. Sainsbury’s believe party food is a packet of crisps, and Marks & Spencer had the most divine looking canapés [almost] ever. It’ll be a hard choice.

I know. I’ll be making them myself. But one can dream a little.

They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

The Slithers

Confession time. I had to cover up bits of the cover of Philip Caveney’s new book, The Slithers. I do realise it’s a great cover, but I was unable to look at it and kept the book facing the wrong way, until the time came to read it and stronger measures were required. But it’s fine, that pear looks almost as though it belongs.

But let me tell you, this is not a horror story about a pear.

Rather like his close colleague and ‘friend’ Danny Weston, Philip has conveyed his latest young hero Zach and his dad to Scotland, looking for a new life. His mum has died, and so has his grandfather, whose old cottage they now live in.

Now, there’s a reason the old man had put shutters over anything that opened into the house. And the stinky pond that Zach’s dad asks him to deal with? Well, there’s a reason that was left as it was, too.

I would suggest that next time you find a green, glowing stone underground, you leave it there. Your wardrobe is not the place for it.

Although, it appears as if their luck has changed. Zach wins a lot of money, and gets himself a girlfriend, and his dad gets a really good job. But then, the signs are that his grandparents had a stroke of luck, too, just before they didn’t.

I am grateful that the ‘thing’ gracing my book cover is only paper, or it would not be so easily contained by a paper pear. Zach had it a lot worse.

This is a great new adventure from Philip, and my sincere apologies for not offering you a cover image.

Polly and the Puffin – The Happy Christmas

Much as I adored Jenny Colgan’s first books about Polly and her puffin, this Christmas story beats them. Illustrated by Thomas Docherty, both have caught the spirit of Polly and her Christmas wishes exactly.

There will – of course – be a Christmas baby. Every good seasonal story needs one.

Jenny Colgan and Thomas Docherty, The Happy Christmas

But before that, Polly just can’t wait. Her poor mum isn’t ready for Christmas quite as early as Polly and Neil are. The two of them make lists. But when mum finally takes Polly to see Father Christmas at the big shop in Edinburgh, she’s not allowed to take Neil.

(Anyway, he’s got a ‘pregnant’ wife to be with.)

Unfortunately, what Polly does take – apart from Wrong Puffin – is the wrong list. She’s got Neil’s list, and ends up having to ask Father Christmas for fish and things. Very embarrassing, and so upsetting.

But all’s well that ends well.

This is so lovely.

Christmases and snow flakes

Christmas is less red, and more pale blue with white dots.

All three picture books in front of me share this colour scheme, and it’s one I like a lot. Red is shouty. This is more wintry, and cold.

Rachel Bright’s All I Want for Christmas, about little penguin who thinks mostly about the Christmas shopping, is really just a version of Mother-of-witch. All she ever wanted for Christmas, no matter how often I asked, was a good little girl. And big penguin in this book is just the same. It’s all about love.

Rachel Bright, All I Want for Christmas

David Melling’s Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas, brings us our favourite silly bear. He builds a snowman, accidentally incorporating most of his friends. And he finds a reindeer with a shiny nose. There are hugs. Lots of snow. And a sledge, just like little penguin’s.

David Melling, Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas

In The Snowbear by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander, two children build a snowman. And then they too go sledging. It’s very slippery, and they go very fast, and the woods are full of wolves. But with a faithful snowbear you need not worry for long, even if it is too slippery to go uphill.

Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander, The Snowbear