Category Archives: Reading

What Manor of Murder?

At Monday’s event there was a hinted suggestion that maybe you can’t have crime for children. I didn’t exclaim ‘what rot!’ but they were wrong. You can, and you do, have crime novels for young readers. As with other books, some adult themes will have been missed out, but dead bodies are not necessarily one of them. Children can cope just fine.

I didn’t mention that I was reading a young crime book at that very moment, or that the young detectives actually had a fight with the policeman about being allowed to draw the chalk line round the body. I have to add here that Christopher William Hill’s Bleakley Brothers mystery, What Manor of Murder? is perhaps a little unrealistic. It’s set in the 1930s (I think) and quite posh in a modern, fake sort of way.

Christopher William Hill, What Manor of Murder?

Twins Eustace and Horatio Bleakley are on their way to spend Michaelmas with their aunt and uncle at Bleakley Manor, in the company of a Poor Unfortunate, aka an orphan by the name of Master Oliver Davenport, and their cousin Loveday. Before long there are two corpses that have to be accommodated – quite literally – and the mystery of their demise needs to be solved. Who can they trust?

Very few tears are shed over the dead people, who weren’t terribly popular anyway. This is probably rather unlikely, even in these wealthy circumstances. And the boys speak a somewhat exaggerated English, the way writers nowadays [might] believe posh people once spoke. But it’s quite fun.

(I just hope the boys grew up into decent men, because if not, I’ve just gone off the whole trend of this kind of thing. It’s only charming up to a point.)

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Is War Over?

David Almond’s new, short, book War Is Over is mainly about young John, who in 1918 keeps being told that he is at war. He – rightly – feels he is too young to be at war, as are German children. Whatever the adults say.

This story is mostly about the perception of Germans, and about the ‘cowards’ who earned themselves white feathers, like John’s friend Dorothy’s uncle, who hides in the woods, because he has dared suggest Germans are also people.

John is a lovely boy, and I hope he grew up to do something about this hatred of foreigners.

David Almond and David Litchfield, War Is Over

The book is richly illustrated by David Litchfield, and you’d want to read the book if only to look at and enjoy his illustrations. They are pure art, and so beautiful.


And then, thinking about how Germans apparently are not human beings like the British, I caught some of the Remembrance Sunday ceremony on television yesterday. I watched as afterwards, the President* of Germany led members of the British Royal family away from the Cenotaph.

My mind almost boggled. Here we had been remembering two wars against Germany, and here was the President of that former enemy country, not only present, but important enough that he went before the Royals. I almost had time for the thought ‘isn’t it great how far we have all come for this to be seen as the norm?’

And then I remembered what the politicians are busy doing right now.

(*His name is Frank-Walter Steinmeier, if you didn’t know. I didn’t either.)

White Feather

It is the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years on. I can’t think of a better way to mark it than with White Feather by mother and son Catherine and David MacPhail.

Catherine & David MacPhail, White Feather

Ostensibly about a coward soldier in WWI, we discover early on that Charlie, who was shot as a deserter, is believed by his mother and younger brother Tony to be nothing of the kind. And the awful thing is that neighbours even handed Tony a white feather, on behalf of his dead brother.

Tony sets out to discover what might have happened to Charlie, and to clear his name. This is a short, dyslexia friendly, story, but it packs a lot into those few pages.

And today we can think back to Charlie’s terrible fate, and that of many other unfortunate soldiers, and we know they were all brave, whether or not they ran away from the fighting. How could anyone thrive on the horrors of this war? Today we know that it didn’t stop other wars from happening.

Let’s remember all who suffered through this time, one hundred years ago. They did it for us. What have we done for them?

Kristallnacht – 80 years on

It has been 80 years since Kristallnacht, and ordinarily I’d feel relieved it is now well in the past, and not a recent memory. But somehow life has moved in a direction that makes another such event feel not in the slightest unlikely. In fact, depending on where you draw the boundaries, it’s already happening. It’s just that some of us would like to feel that it won’t take place anywhere near us.

And then there is the other important K, the Kindertransport, which started almost immediately after Kristallnacht, so that’s another 80th anniversary, and another thing we’d prefer if there was no need for it to happen again.

Both events caused some good books to be written; books I’ve ‘enjoyed’ because of their historical aspects, and because the good that happened after something so bad, was a cause for some celebration. This works for both fact-based books and pure fiction, inspired by these events.

And still bad stuff keeps happening, and we keep getting books based on what goes on in the world. The books are usually excellent, but I would so love for them not to be possible to have been written. Just think. What if these people had not been hunted out of their homes, losing their lives, or having to send their children to a strange country? Whatever great things they ended up doing here, they could have done in their own countries.

Something I read in the paper the other day made me aware that the last couple of years will by now be featuring in fiction, or are about to turn up in novels some time soon. And once I’d had that thought, I felt that I don’t want to read those books. So far everything I’ve read has been removed from me in time or place.

I’m not ready to read about my own daily fears. Maybe I never will.

Kristallnacht was bad, but I believed it could stay in the past. Because we know better now. Don’t we?

(Read this Wikipedia page on the Kindertransport. Then try to envisage the same thing being agreed – in Westminster – now.)

Through the Water Curtain

Cornelia Funke didn’t like fairy tales as a child. I’m just about with her on that. I did read them, possibly even liked them, but when you think about it, there isn’t much to actually ‘like.’ Is there?

As Cornelia points out in her introduction to her new collection of classic – but less well known – fairy tales, children are less sensitive than us adults tend to believe. I hope that is true, because there are some gruesome stories here, along with some lovely ones too.

I wasn’t really planning on reading all the tales in Through the Water Curtain. But with one thing and another, I discovered I was sitting there, reading one story after another. So much for that.

But I did actually skip one. It was too gruesome for me, adult though I am, and everything. I permitted myself to leave that particularly bloodthirsty and unpleasant tale right where it was. No doubt someone else will find it and enjoy it.

Cornelia Funke, Through the Water Curtain

This is a gorgeous volume, with a cover that I have found myself stroking repeatedly, all in blue and green with gold. Anyone would love to receive one of these for Christmas.

As Cornelia points out, women get a raw deal in fairy tales. There are so many silly young princes and their father the King, and far too many females quite content to marry the cleverest young man, no questions asked.

The pattern of these stories is much the same as in all fairy tales. With one or two exceptions, however, they are mostly new, to me, and to many westerners. Cornelia has long collected tales from all over the world, and in Through the Water Curtain she offers readers plenty of new material.

Maskerade

It was the witches who decided for me. I knew I was going to choose a Terry Pratchett novel to buy, but which one? Several looked promising, but Granny Weatherwax at the opera sounded especially tempting.

Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

Maskerade is actually a crime novel, I discovered. This made it even more fun, and I was already needing the light Pratchett touch. It improved my week considerably.

Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg travel to the big city for some culture. Well, actually, they go there to see if they can persuade young witch Agnes Nitt, aka Perdita, to join them so they can be three witches together. Three is so much more fun. But Perdita wants to sing opera and might need quite a bit of persuading.

And then people start dropping dead, all over the opera. Even more than the normal operatic death toll, I mean.

You forget – well, I do, anyway – how good Terry was at observing everything in life and making pertinent comments about the ridiculousness of it all. Or is it easier to comment on life at the opera?

The main outcome for me was that I need another dose of Pratchett magic soon. Things went well for Granny and Nanny, but then you’d expect that. They are not the kind of witches who would permit things to not go well. I haven’t yet decided which of them is the cleverest. Most cunning. Whatever.

Some Carnegie nominations thoughts

To begin with I suspected it would turn out that I hadn’t read very many of the books on the Carnegie medal nominations list. I am more than aware of how unaware I am these days, not keeping up with developments, and not being kept up on them either.

But from the rather long list of highly thought of books, I’ve read quite a few. 21 to be precise. No, I see it’s 22. Sorry. I have several more on the top layer of my tbr pile. I don’t feel shamed by my ignorance, even if I’d quite like to have got into closer contact with many more nominated novels.

Timing is odd, though. Some of the books feel very recent, while some feel actually surprisingly old. I’m sure it’s still the case that they all fall into a 12-month period, but I tend to think ‘Oh, is that still considered recent?’ and ‘Hmm, that got on the list pretty fast.’ But that will just be me.

And I apologise for my silence on the Kate Greenaway nominations. There is a link on the page, but it doesn’t work. And as happens every year, my Googling techniques seem to get me nowhere.

It’ll be interesting to see who makes it to the longlist. I have several books that I would like to win. I suppose that will turn out to be impossible.