Category Archives: Reading

Skulduggery Pleasant – Seasons of War

I don’t think we’re done. 😮

With Skulduggery Pleasant, I mean. Seasons of War is the, let me see, thirteenth book, not counting the one without Detective Pleasant. But I am not com-plaining. I’m really not. I like this world with all the double-crossings and the magic and the hastily cut off limbs and the humour and all the rest.

Valkyrie Cain makes friends with the oddest people, as well as unfriends with some you’d not expect. Along with Tanith Low we have a formidable pair of women heroes, in many cases fighting better than the rest.

Omen Darkly is proving himself, and I have hight hopes of him. Even if he didn’t in the end do that thing, you know, which I had been expecting.

I’ve remarked before on how confusing, not to mention convenient, it can be when dead people stop being dead, and when they become your enemies instead of your friends. In Seasons of War we see a lot of the other world, where they also have a copy of every person, and they’re not necessarily the same, like dead, or friend, or foe.

So a lot gets sorted out in this thirteenth book, but some doesn’t. And there is new stuff that will need sorting.

It’s fun. And interesting.

The Great Godden

This is such a beautiful tale about summer holidays. I rarely feel that anyone can describe my early summers, but in Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden, I could have been there. OK, my summers were more boring, with fewer sex gods turning up and less of the undercurrents.

Or maybe not? Obviously no sex gods, but this novel brought home to me how different the slow, languid summers with nothing but sun, sea and sand appear to the young, and what it must be like for their parents. The ones who still have to cook meals and run everything, let alone as in this case, organise someone’s wedding and sew outfits. On holiday!

We have the 17-something main character and her three younger siblings and their parents, arriving at their summer bolthole, to spend all summer, engaging in their kind of nothings as usual. Tradition matters. (At first I thought I was in New England, but realised soon enough that the family live in London, and were driving to the coast, somewhere. It didn’t feel quite English; more Swedish, or maybe American.)

Anyway, this is marvellous, and I defy any reader not to want to join the family, along with the cousins next door and the lovely dog.

And then the Goddens turn up; gorgeous Kit and surly Hugo. They really stir things up, with everyone in love with Kit (who between you and me is a real piece of work) and turning their backs on Hugo.

Our arty main character observes everything, while also falling for the great Kit. Not much happens? Except, of course it does. You just barely notice.

This is wonderful! I feel as if I’ve been given permission to revisit those careless days when I enjoyed life, with no idea how the adults fared; having to get on with each other, and put meals on the table.

Round Scotland in books

Scottish children’s fiction has been on my mind these last few days. It’s not that it isn’t ‘always’ but I had an idea I had to think about. And there are so many books!

Barbara Henderson must have had too much time on her hands as she sat down to convert fifty tweets into a blog post, listing fifty children’s books set in places all over Scotland.

This is such an interesting list. I know some of the books, know of some of the other books, and have never heard of far too many of them. I could very easily use this compilation as a shopping/library list.

And you, why don’t you give A Tour Around Scotland in 50 Children’s Books a go? While you, and I, wait to be able to travel.

All you need are books.

The Short Knife

How hard are you willing to work for a carrot?

You couldn’t accuse the characters in Elen Caldecott’s The Short Knife of being lazy. This surprisingly topical historical novel is quite a thing. And by surprising I mean that Elen couldn’t possibly have foreseen the slavery business making the front pages as the publication date for her book grew near.

These slaves are white, and British, and their owners are also white, and more Saxon than British, but everyone has a bad side, whatever their nationality. In AD 454 the Romans have left Britain, and the Saxons have made the move to take over.

Mai and her sister Haf and their dad are poor, but live peacefully (in or near Wales), when their lives are interrupted, and ruined, by a few Saxon men. Much hardship and sadness follow, and the girls can’t be sure what will happen to them.

The story is told from two time perspectives; mostly from autumn AD 454 when the Saxons come, slowly leading up to the second one, where someone is giving birth at the same time as something vague but horrific has happened. So the reader both knows, and does not know.

You see both nationalities with all their faults, and some good sides. Having more than a measly carrot to eat is one of the good things about what might otherwise be considered pretty bad.

You feel you know what is happening, when Elen suddenly switches the truth of what we are seeing. And then again.

This is good writing, and a truly good story.

Looking back some more, and forward

When I had the idea to cover more [than my average] black fiction during June, I came up with a lot of titles and authors. And then I realised that many of these authors were white, which is what much of the criticism of books featuring black characters has been about. So I vowed to avoid those books, however great they may be.

I also came up with a list of books I wanted to read, but was unable to fit into one month. If nothing else, it would have been unfair to the books, as I wouldn’t have given them the time they deserved.

Two ‘recent’ books were Mare’s War by Tanita S Davis, and Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini. The former is about black American women serving in Europe during WWII, and the latter is about being an immigrant in a very white part of Canada. Neither is typical and I enjoyed them. Also, the two authors are not really household names, which adds to the fun.

Speaking of household names, I am getting a lot closer to reading Toni Morrison. And despite her being very well known, I have to admit to wanting to read Michelle Obama’s autobiography. And Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated which, while being a picture book, is so much more.

Mohinder’s War

Bali Rai’s short novel set in France during WWII is in one way an ordinary war adventure, showing the courage so many displayed while fighting the enemy and hoping to survive.

But the hero here is Mohinder Singh, a Sikh pilot with the RAF, who crash-lands his plane somewhere in occupied France. He is found by 13-year-old Joelle, who with her parents feed and shelter people who need help, be they members of the Resistance or as in this case, a foreign soldier.

This is what’s important. You learn, if you didn’t already know, that Indians fought for Britain in the war, flying from England. And you discover that the hero of a story like this can be a Sikh pilot, which will feel good for not just young Sikhs, but for anyone who might believe that the British don’t take ‘immigrants’ seriously, and who don’t know that many of them died for what was someone else’s country.

Mo is as brave as any RAF hero, and he brings with him his Sikh values, which he teaches to Joelle, as they run from the Germans.

The book begins with Mohinder’s funeral, at the grand old age of 105, and Joelle is there too. This helps, because at least you know that the two of them survived the war. The bad things they encountered were bad enough, and you don’t want to worry about whether they will make it.

I could do with more stories like this one. We might know that all sorts of people fought in the war, while not really understanding, unless it’s spelled out to us.

Persepolis

There was obviously a hidden agenda when I gave the Resident IT Consultant three graphic autobiographies for Christmas. I wanted to read them myself.

I loved George Takei, as I said.

Then I went for Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I’d seen the film years ago and really enjoyed it. But I have to admit to having struggled to like the book. I am currently ‘resting’ between book one and book two.

This is about a period in Iranian history that I have lived through, and I read about it in the papers at the time. I felt I understood it reasonably, but Persepolis has me confused. I don’t know what side the girl’s parents are on. Neither does she. Or she doesn’t even know there are sides. I think.

After much confusion on both our parts, the Shah is gone and she has at least one dead uncle and most of her peers have escaped abroad. Her well-off parents are getting worried, and are sending her to Austria. That’s as far as I got.

I can see they are upset, and that the girl is confused and worried. And I remember feeling worked up on her behalf when she was in Vienna in the film. She looked so alone.

I’m not sure I will return to the book. We shall see.

They Called Us Enemy

Not being a trekkie I didn’t know who George Takei was when his interesting snippets turned up on social media. I simply liked them.

Now I have read his graphic, well, I suppose, autobiography, from WWII onwards, about the interning – imprisonment – of American citizens of Japanese background after Pearl Harbour. It is a great book about this atrocious and shameful history. (The only thing I knew about this before came from watching the film I’ll Remember April some years ago.)

George was four when his family were more or less removed from their beds in Los Angeles in the middle of the night, and taken on a long journey to Arkansas at the other end of the country, where they were to stay for most of the war.

I have deep admiration for George’s father, who worked hard, kept the peace and made himself useful to his fellow ‘prisoners’ for the duration of this wrongful treatment. His behaviour also meant that this whole period seemed like an adventure to George, and possibly as almost normal to his two younger siblings.

Through George’s later fame, some of this unfair treatment has reached more people than might otherwise have been possible.

And I was reminded of what I read on Normblog some years ago; something which made me want to cry again. But mostly good crying. In a world of many really very bad people, and leaders, there are good ones too.

(Almost as an afterthought, I have to comment on how easy it was to read this graphic novel. They aren’t always, but this one worked perfectly.)

Jag vet varför burfågeln sjunger

Or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, as you will know it.

There was a time when I read books simply because I had them to hand. Like all Swedes I subscribed to book parcels from Bra Böcker for a number of years. They published three volumes of an encyclopaedia a year. Along with it came a couple of novels. Usually they were not books I’d heard of, or they were oldish Swedish classics. But I was young and believed collecting books was a good thing.

It obviously is, but perhaps not this way. I suspect the Billy bookcases were born to deal with Bra Böcker.

One of those novels was Maya Angelou’s Jag vet varför burfågeln sjunger. As so often, I didn’t like the title, but read the book anyway. And what a book! I bought all of them in the end. Although, perhaps not. I see now there were seven, and in my day there were only three. They were the ones I read.

I was shocked by what happened to young Maya, believing abuse like that was a modern thing. But what an inspiration she was, and how far she went, and all in the face of a difficult start in life.

I wish I’d known then that she would go on to even greater things, reading her poems and launching Presidents, eventually being awarded the Medal of Freedom. She’s quite a role model.

And I’m thinking that those unsolicited books were indeed A Good Thing. They opened my eyes and my mind.

Medals for ‘my’ boys

It’s good to know the witch senses are working just fine. I could simply not see any other outcome regarding the Carnegie Medal than that Anthony McGowan would be awarded it for Lark. It could have happened sooner, but this way we got all four books of the trilogy in.

(And I’m saying this even keeping in mind the competition Tony was up against.)

For the Kate Greenaway medal it was Shaun Tan for his Tales From the Inner City (which I’ve yet to read). One of my most favourite illustrators, and I’m more than satisfied.

This year the proceedings were short and on Radio 4, on Front Row. They interviewed both Tony and Shaun and both read from their books, and explained the background to what they’d written. Tony got so excited he had to be interrupted in the middle of his ‘terrific’ answer…

According to Shaun ‘painting is really a way of exploring anxiety’. Plenty of that around.

Yep, very satisfied with this.

Anthony McGowan, Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020 from CILIP CKG Children’s Book Awards on Vimeo.