Category Archives: Reading

The Superpower Project

Exploding grannies appear to be a thing these days. Especially at the beginning of books, and I suppose it’s as well to get granny out of the way as soon as you can, plotwise and with a violent end.

Paul Bristow and Luke Newell, The Superpower Project

Paul Bristow’s first book The Superpower Project is both funny and exciting. Illustrated in comic style by Luke Newell, it looks just like the kind of book middle grade readers would be drawn to, but had I not been offered this by an adult, I’d never have looked at it twice.

And that would have been a shame, because I enjoyed it a lot, and I should know by now not to judge a book this way. The blurb is much more my kind of thing, though.

Megan and Cam suddenly discover they have superpowers. Megan can fly, and Cam can, well, turn into a hamster. This all seems to have something to do with Megan’s gran. They sort of inherit an ancient robot with amnesia, and soon after they discover that the town’s transformer-sculpture robots are out to kill them.

So why did gran explode, what did she want them to do, and what’s with all these sculptures, and their weirder than weird owner Mr Finn?

Set in Greenock, the children and their robot end up investigating old factories and an old hospital, a graveyard and the bottom of the river, among other things. They are brave and intelligent and with a nice line in humorous chat. And hamsters are obviously really useful animals.

When you think about it.

There is a promising epilogue, too, and I can only hope there might be more mayhem in Greenock before long. There are several other characters it’d be fun to see more of.

And I actually didn’t know that all schools are legally obliged to have three nice teachers.

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Somebody please give me a baby elephant! I am so in love with little Ganesha in Vaseem Khan’s crime novels about the retired inspector Chopra. I hope young elephants really do act and think like Ganesha, because if they do, the world will be better for it.

Vaseem Khan, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

In his second book about this upright citizen and private detective – a man who cannot be bribed – Vaseem aims very high indeed. The crime is the theft of the Crown Jewels, and most importantly the Koh-i-Noor. The police are incompetent and corrupt, so it is up to Chopra to work out who did it, and also to find the priceless jewel.

This was even more fun than the first book, with a new character to care about, and with a much larger role for Mrs Chopra (and her mother…) and the retired inspector even gets himself an assistant. I hope his unreliable heart will stand up to all this private detecting and rushing about, because I want a lot more.

As in the first novel, we get to see India as we – probably – didn’t know it, and the food is delicious! I mean, it really seems as if the food is very good. I wouldn’t object to a small sample included with the book.

When there was hope

What to blog about today? Yeah, well, that’s a hard one.

In the 1960s I didn’t think about politics. It was beyond my comprehension. In the 1970s I thought about it quite a lot. It was something that seemed to bring about change. The kind of change that was good for most of us.

It seemed as though things would become mostly all right, if only we waited long enough. Not everything could happen overnight. There was political music to listen to. There was political fiction to read.

Below are some of the books I read and enjoyed. I haven’t read them for over forty years, so don’t remember enough to tell you much of the actual plots. The two by Stig Malmberg were set in contemporary Sweden, and featured fairly ordinary Swedish teenagers. One is about doing your national service and how that might be right, or not.

Books by Sven Wernström and Stig Malmberg

The two novels by Sven Wernström are set in Latin America and deal with things like the Cuban revolution as experienced by ordinary teenagers there. It was thrilling to read for someone who grew up on Enid Blyton and then moved on to Agatha Christie, both of whom wrote books about characters unlike myself, during a time period that was already in the past, and which I couldn’t know.

The Retired Children’s Librarian was cautiously liberal, and didn’t really care for Malmberg, but grudgingly admitted there was merit in Wernström’s Latin American stories. I liked them all, and it didn’t matter that she didn’t always approve.

Because there was hope. Did I say? If we waited long enough, life would be fine and fair for everyone. If the ‘wrong’ party won an election, it was just their politics that was wrong. As people they were as normal and decent as the rest of us.

Until this week.

Dindy and the Elephant

There is less elephant in this book by Elizabeth Laird than the title leads you to expect. But that’s OK. What’s there is quite satisfying, and I feel as though I could almost deal with an angry elephant.

Elizabeth Laird, Dindy and the Elephant

I have to admit to a particular fondness for period fiction from India, and former British Empire countries in Africa. This one is set in India, on a tea plantation between the end of the war and just before Indian independence.

Nine-year-old Dindy and her brother Pog, who’s only six, escape from their bungalow one day when bored, despite not being allowed out. That’s when they encounter the potentially dangerous elephant.

But this is mostly about how much love ‘British’ children born and growing up in India have for their country, and how people of their parents’ generation don’t necessarily share that love. Dindy’s mother hates India and looks down on the natives, including those who work for the family.

Prejudice from both sides emerges and it’s interesting to see how they deal with a bad situation, and also what their feelings really are.

Very lovely little book. Whereas there might be no point in a sequel, I rather feel it’d be nice to see what happened next.

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

Elections

They do it differently in Iceland.

They have presidential elections next week. On Saturday, I think. And politicians are not reckoned to stand much of a chance against ‘normal’ people. Also, a president should be intelligent. People want to respect him or her. Yes.

OK, so the Icelandic president is more of a figurehead, and who or what they are might matter less. But it’s fascinating to see that they can do things this way.

In an article for Vi magazine they interviewed several authors, and maybe a librarian or two, who were all wanting to stand. Authors are highly thought of in Iceland. People read. A lot.

Michael Rosen

It’s an interesting thought. Living in countries with a monarch and a prime minister, it’s not entirely obvious how to imagine this scenario, but it has merits I feel. Michael Rosen* for Queen? Or send him straight to Downing St?

(*Insert author of choice. Although preferably not Martin Amis.)

MCBF – ‘a festival to grow up with’

It’s almost that time again. The Manchester Children’s Book Festival launched yesterday. Without me, but a launch is still a launch, and they have Carol Ann Duffy.

I like the way they describe their programme, suggesting that if you’re a little bit older than you were six years ago when they began – oh so beautifully! – you might have grown from younger books to some of the older, YA books and their authors. I really like that idea; that you grow up with a festival.

James Draper and Kaye Tew

And it goes without saying that once grown up you can still never be too old. After all, just look at the festival directors. Do Kaye Tew and James Draper strike you as old? No, I thought not.

I fear this may be another festival where I miss Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve. I have seen them, but they feel like my forever missing act. I don’t even know if I’m going this year. I’ll wait and see if I’m suddenly afflicted by energy, next week, or the week after.

The other side of Jacqueline Wilson, MCBF 2012

They have a lovely patron in Curtis Jobling (I’d like to think I made the introductions, but that could well be fake memory syndrome), so I don’t see how they can go wrong. And I love the fact that on their home page there is a photo of Jacqueline Wilson from a few years ago, with Daughter shooting away in the mid-background, and a virtually invisible witch next to her. We’ll never go away!

There’s a poetry competition, with judges of the highest calibre. If I wrote poetry I’d love the opportunity of being read by the poet laureate, and her Welsh counter-part, Gillian Clarke.

So, for two weekends MCBF takes over various venues across Manchester, including the library and Waterstones, where on the last day you can check out local boy Danny Weston with Sally Green [she’s not a boy].

That sounds good, doesn’t it?