Category Archives: Reading

Lark

I, well, by the last page of Lark I needed to remove my glasses. They got spattered by some wet substance, most likely caused by Anthony McGowan’s writing. (I continued blubbing – not all that silently – for some time.)

We’ve reached the last of the four books about Nicky and Kenny; some of the loveliest stories about two disadvantaged Yorkshire boys as you’ll ever read. Yes, I know they are dyslexia-friendly, but that’s not why you read them. They are really very grown-up YA books. Just short. No wasted words.

I was surprised by Brock, keen to continue when Pike was published and very happy to get to Rook. With Lark I didn’t know what to expect, except something exceptional. There was a suggestion that not everyone would be alive at the end.

And now I’m crying again.

Anthony McGowan, Lark

This time Nicky and Kenny go for a walk, hoping to find a lark where their dad suggests they might see one. But they are young, and Nicky is only a boy, charged with looking after his big brother Kenny. It might be spring, but out on the moors the weather gets worse, and rain turns to snow.

There is some youthful carelessness, and it is so easy to see how similar stories you find in the press could have happened in real life. But there is also bravery, and so much love.

Barrington Stoke sent out a packet of tissues with the book, but has anyone got a really large hanky??

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The Gruffalo is 20

Offspring were always too old for the Gruffalo. I’m quite relieved to discover this fact, as I tended to worry about why we didn’t read Julia Donaldson’s book. What was I missing?

I learned to recognise Axel Scheffler’s illustrations, and I fondly believed the Gruffalo wasn’t so much a monster; more an ugly, but otherwise really friendly creature.

Instead it seems there is a clever little mouse who really knows how to look after himself in many a tight corner. First he scares his neighbourhood bullies – the dangerous animals in the forest – by making up the dreadful Gruffalo. And when the Gruffalo turns out to be real, he avoids being eaten by fooling this monster, while ‘proving’ to the other animals he was telling the truth.

So, that was a surprise.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, The Gruffalo

There is now a 20th anniversary special edition, with a forest play scene and cutout animals and everything. You could have lot of fun with that. Because judging by the queues for Julia Donaldson wherever she appears, her books remain extremely popular, and the Gruffalo is very well known. Look at me, I knew it without knowing it, or even being right about the book. We all know something.

(I still think he looks adorable, and that mouse is a sneaky little thing.)

The Red Light Zone

It seems that being Head of BBC Radio Scotland – and I might have got the exact correct title wrong – is pretty much like being the Bookwitch. (You come up with ideas, and then you make them happen.)

Jeff Zycinski, The Red Light Zone

I had never heard of Jeff Zycinski. But then I don’t really listen to the radio. I sort of assumed he was Scotland’s Terry Wogan, or something, but it turns out he was more the man who came up with the idea for a programme like that and put ‘Wogan’ in front of the microphone. (Or should that be behind?) Except he did it with people and programmes in Scotland, which means no one has heard of him.

Or have they?

Anyway, now that he has left the BBC, Jeff is ‘telling it all’ in his book The Red Light Zone – which is a much less daring title than you might think. It’s not sex so much as the warning that you are on air. Good title, unless you are being sent it in a cryptic message on Facebook, making it look like Badger the Mystical Mutt had been hacked. (This is the first book I’ve reviewed, published by a fictional dog.)

Jeff’s 25 years at the BBC make for interesting reading. There is some gossip, and we meet the Princess Royal as well as Chris Evans, and I now know much more about the various BBC DGs down in London, but it is mostly ordinary stuff. The running of radio for a quarter of a century.

I liked it. In the end so much that it acted as a painkiller, and I also had to put up with the Resident IT Consultant stealing the book whenever I wasn’t looking. Occasionally when I was looking, because I’m a nice witch. He liked it too.

If you remove the radio aspect from this biography, it still works as a description of 25 years of life in Scotland. I like the sound of Jeff’s wife. And their children. But I would rather that the dog had lived…

A little Pratchett, and some pysio

Daughter urgently required a spare pair of glasses, so I ended up buying a book.

We had dragged ourselves into town, and when it turned out an eye test was unavoidable, I realised I’d come unprepared with not a single book to hand, despite having three on the go at home.

Which is how we made it to Waterstones, because you can ‘always’ buy another book.

So I sat on a chair at Specsavers and read my new Terry Pratchett until such a time as Daughter had managed to escape all up-selling, and emerged with a new pair of glasses for very little money.

I, on the other hand, having no spare arm to hand – heh – have got myself some pysio. Yes, I know it’s physio, but I was quite taken with the Resident IT Consultant’s earlier typo for this service. And on the basis that it sounds like some benevolent little elf, I’m off to more pysio this morning.

Our Castle by the Sea

This novel by Lucy Strange, about the outbreak of WWII, was more painful to read than I’d expected. Or, indeed, felt before. It also made me harbour quite unpleasant thoughts about Mr Churchill.

Lucy Strange, Our Castle by the Sea

12-year-old Petra and her older sister Magda live in a Kent coast lighthouse, with their lighthouse-keeper father, and their German mother. Yes, German. Never popular with local people, it seems the outbreak of war freed up any inhibitions they may have had about what you can say and do towards the wrong kind of foreigner.

The children are also tainted by their semi-foreignness and life becomes quite hard for the whole family. This is more than a war time story, however, and veers more towards crime fiction as the story grows.

It’s fascinating; no question about that. But you read it with your heart in your throat, thinking about what internment might have meant. Or treason. And then there is the case of evacuating children.

But it’s the lack of human warmth from some of the people you perhaps thought were friends and neighbours that really got to me. And more so, what it reminded me of.

Have we learned nothing?

Whoever had, has been given more

Until some years ago I admit I often felt grumpy when seeing among the books most sold during the year, the names of Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson. I recognised their greatness and that being ‘names’ and very popular, it made sense that adults bought lots of their books for little readers.

I just wanted there to be a few more children’s authors on the lists. Usually there was someone, but not many.

But at least they were there, alongside Jacky and Julia.

Now I feel grumpy beyond belief when having a quick look at the 2018 list of the 100 bestselling books of the year.

Yes, I am glad that children’s books make up a third of that top list. Although I have to take the Guardian’s word for that, since I was unable to identify all 33. And that’s so wrong. As the Bookwitch, even if I haven’t read them, I ought to know who’s who.

A third of the third – i.e. 11 of the bestselling titles – belong to the well known comedian David Walliams. This is wrong in so many ways. Jeff Kinney is there, but I can allow that. Three Harry Potters, thank goodness, one Julia Donaldson, one Kes Gray. Also one Michael Bond and Wonder by R J Palacio, both of which will be movie-related.

And some more celebrity-penned books, not all of which I actually recognise, despite people’s fame.

It seems both wrong, and unkind, to leave 2018 in a bit of an angry mood, but this is not right. Children deserve better. The world is full of really good books. I hope many of them found their way into children’s hands anyway, despite the big names hogging everyone’s attention.

On a Cold Winter’s Night

It’s that time of year, again, when proud dad Declan Burke shares his daughter Lily’s Christmas short story with the rest of the world.

Those of you with really good memories, will recall what I wrote about Lily last December. If not, you just follow the link, and the link there-in, and so forth. It’s good to feel good right now, about how we might have new authors to be excited about some time in the future.

This year’s story is called On a Cold Winter’s Night, and Lily very kindly sent it to me to read:

‘Kate sank down into the squashy armchair in the living room, having just had dinner. She had eaten in silence, staring into space. This is what she did most days, since May the 4th, 1998, when Paddy had his terrible accident. Kate shivered. She went to…’ (continued on Crime Always Pays)

Lily is ten. I’m guessing her parents will force her to finish her education before she gets to write novels full time, but I am hopeful.

Wishing you a ‘God fortsättning!’ as we say in Sweden.