Category Archives: Reading

Love Frankie

The long awaited ‘gay novel’ by Jacqueline Wilson is finally here. Over the years Jacky has written about almost everything, keeping track of what her fans need stories about in order to help them in their own lives. And, obviously, to entertain them.

Love Frankie features a 14-year-old girl, Frankie, living with her two sisters and their mum, who has MS and is recently divorced from their dad. So just from a normal point of view, there is much to worry about. And then Frankie finds herself falling in love with Sally, the girl who until that very moment has bullied her and been thoroughly unpleasant to her.

Everyone around Frankie warns her that Sally will be up to no good, but she can’t help the way she feels.

As an old and wise witch I found myself agreeing with them. We don’t feel that same sex romance is wrong, but we all felt that Sally was wrong for Frankie.

Nevertheless, we see the ups and downs of their relationship. I kept hoping for another love interest for Frankie, while most of her family seemed to hope for happy ever after with the lovely boy next door. So did he.

It’s well done, with nothing too easy, or too difficult, and with Jacky’s normal school type issues with children and teachers and homework, and at home there are the serious concerns about mum’s MS and having to spend weekends with their dad and his new girlfriend. All of it typical of life today for Jacqueline’s fans. You can tell she knows what she’s writing about, which of course has always been the case. And she’s on your side.

The book’s Böll, Heinrich Böll

Guardian reader Wendy, on the paper’s letters page, pointed me in the direction of Adrian Chiles and his column on bookshelves last week, which I had missed. Because we mostly don’t buy a paper on a Thursday. But that’s what the internet is for, discovering what I missed.

It’s yet another article/post/column on how some of us have too many books, and we don’t mind displaying our groaning shelves to the world via Zoom. Adrian now claims he’s going to get rid of, or actually read, some of his ignored volumes.

Easy for him to say. He’s probably not got a book blog to feed.

But, yeah, it seems his books are not even ones he doesn’t like the look of. And this is true of mine as well. I can comfortably ignore books I really wanted, maybe even bought. In fact, just the other day I was congratulating myself for having a more attractive tbr pile right now, basing it on having bought books, rather than it being only review copies of books soon to be published.

Then there are the books you acquire because someone recommended them, or worse, shamed you into feeling you should read them. That’s where Heinrich Böll comes in. Back in 1972, in my German class at school, one of the boys (we only had three, so they kind of stood out) said he’d had an inkling Böll would get the Nobel Prize, so he’d got a few of the man’s books out from the library to read in preparation.

So, of course, I did the same, only for me it was after the award was made public. But still. I dutifully read quite a few of Böll’s novels, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t enjoy any of them.

I have none of them here. Possibly one or two got left on the shelves belonging to Mother-of-Witch, but again, maybe not. Perhaps I borrowed from the library.

There will have been a few other Nobel laureates whose books I’ve read, but not many. I am cured of needing to keep up with boys in classrooms. And let’s face it, I can prune heavily and still have a most respectable looking set of shelves behind me on Zoom.

The Bear, the Piano, and Little Bear’s Concert

I read this to Daughter the other evening, when it was time for bed. It went down well. She’s a recent convert to these lovely books by David Litchfield about the piano-playing bear. I’m sure much younger children will also love this last instalment featuring the piano in the woods.

It’s a bit sad. Well, it has to be, so it can get better. I’m sure young readers instinctively understand this.

Bear continues playing the piano in front of audiences, until, well, until he doesn’t, and instead goes home to the forest. But he misses his old life and his friends, and he is sad.

Things improve when he has Little Bear to bring up and teach things. She is a lovely young bear, and when she comes across the piano in amongst the trees, she wants to know what it is. And then she hatches a plan…

It’s lovely. For an older reader like me, it’s easy to predict how it will work out, and probably also for a younger reader. But it is just as satisfying. Very beautiful, as are David’s gorgeous illustrations.

Booking a holiday

Maybe you noticed me sneaking off on holiday in August? Or not. Service has been poor, so no difference there.

With no Swedish sea and sand to be had – for me – this was replaced with the beaches of St Andrews and plenty of the famous Scottish sunshine. So that was fine. It was a no-frills home-from-home kind of week. It was right opposite my favourite shoe shop and a few doors down from Waterstones, and not far to the other bookshops or the cheese shop, where it’s possible to spend a minor fortune on cheese. Might have spent a little bit on shoes, too. It just happened, like.

Toppings have too many books, if you know what I mean. It looks gorgeous and the books go all the way to the ceiling, but it’s kind of hard to browse. No room to turn and I don’t bend well – so had to instruct Daughter to bend for me and search among the crime paperbacks right under the table. When I sat down in one of their armchairs, someone came up and offered me tea or coffee within seconds. And I only needed to rest a little…

Didn’t go very deep into the children’s books corner, as I wanted to keep my distance from the mother and child already in there, reading books. Who wants to look at children’s books, anyway? Bought a few adult books, by which I mean non-children’s, not adult adult. Picked ones I could see and reach, so choice was what it was.

In Waterstones I picked a few more, including one standing face-out on a display shelf. Kicked myself afterwards for not having replaced it with a book of my choice, but leaving the empty space empty. Oh, well. Had wanted to browse a few more books, including a look at a second book of a series I wrote about some weeks ago, to see what it was like, but they didn’t have it. In fact, neither shop had what was on my mental list to physically look at when in a real shop.

As we had already done both the jigsaw puzzles in the flat, Daughter bought another one; a Vincent van Gogh. It looked easy enough, but by the end I almost grew to hate it, and it’s long been one of my favourites. Also played Jenga, which didn’t do  much for my blood pressure. What if the whole thing toppled???

There were books in the flat. Not many, but some. Pocket walking guides. Nigella and Jamie and Gordon. I suppose in case guests were wanting to know how to cook dinner.

We watched one film. Casino Royale. The old one. We love it and that’s why it was chosen, but oh dear, how un-pc it has become. I also only read one book, a fairly short one. Seating was a bit uncomfortable, and the lack of reading lamps not good for old witches. I’ll bring one, next time, if only to keep the coffee machine company.

The week ticked all the boxes; sea, sand, sun, ice cream, books, cheese, shoes, strolls through town. The Resident IT Consultant walked a lot more properly, and felt sorry for us, but each to their own, I say. He too came across some books when out.

Starting school

Where do the years go? It feels like mere months since Boy Tollarp came to the Resident IT Consultant’s and my 60th birthday lunch. He was five weeks old at the time. Now on social media I see him wearing a blazer and tie and – admittedly – school shorts, as he starts school this week.

He’s not alone in this. Even a year like 2020 has children going to school for the first time. And it can be scary. I remember my first day, and I remember Offspring’s first days. Also scary. At least to me.

So books on what to expect and how to deal with any little problems are a useful thing. The two picture books I’ve just read will probably not become long term classics, but if they help a few children now, that’s enough to make me happy. It’s often impossible for the adults to guess which books will turn out to make a real impact on their small child. These are both lovely and might do the job.

Today I’m Strong, by Nadiya Hussain and her illustrator Ella Bailey, shows us a child who is often happy going into school. But not always. Some days she is bullied at school and would rather stay at home. She talks to her [toy?] tiger, who looks pretty much like Judith Kerr’s tiger, except less likely to eat you up. And Tiger provides her with the solution, and one day she goes in and deals with the bully, firmly and maturely.

So that’s that.

In My School Unicorn, by Willow Evans and Tom Knight, we meet another young girl, about to buy her first school uniform, and feeling worried about her life changing. In what looks like a magic uniform shop, the proprietor slips her a unicorn to keep with her at school. It’s a little thing, but it helps. School turns out to be fine, and one day that unicorn can go on to some other child.

Both books are diverse, and there is a [single?] dad looking after the unicorn girl. I’m hoping these books will help many young children as they begin the rest of their lives. And the usefulness of tigers and unicorns should not be ignored.

The Worry (Less) Book

This is a very useful little book on anxiety. The kind of thing that more of us are admitting to having around in our lives, especially in Covid times. Although author and illustrator Rachel Brian probably didn’t know what kind of world her book was going to arrive in.

It’s a little bit American, but I often think that when it comes to doing worrying, a little bit American can be reassuring, somehow. Try it.

I was actually going to put it aside, but one small glimpse of the innards of this book – which will make you ‘feel strong, find calm and tame your anxiety’ – made me change my mind completely. This is good stuff. I mean, a book where you learn to tell your anxiety that you don’t have time for it today, but maybe tomorrow? That’s such a common sense bit of advice.

We need common sense. We are all, mostly, worried about something in life, be it farting in company or anything else.

It’s a small cartoon style book, with humorous but sensible advice on how to deal with being scared of dogs, and avoiding swimming with sharks. It’s attractive, in grey and black with only yellow as colour accent. I know, when anxious, I should not concern myself with style. But it helps.

The cartoon aspect might make you think it’s for really young children, but my guess is young school age children. The age when you meet life head on for the first time, and worry about the dog, the other children and, yes, farting.

But we don’t really change much, do we? We grow bigger and older and still we worry. We’re probably capable of reading longer, more learned books on dealing with anxiety, but this one will do quite nicely.

You are good enough. You just need to learn that. And to remember it. (That brain of yours can be your worst enemy.)

Witch Child – 20 years on

Today sees the publication of the 20th anniversary edition of Witch Child by Celia Rees, as well as its sequel, Sorceress.

I don’t know where to start. There is no review on Bookwitch, because the books seriously predate her appearance in the book world. But the thing is, these books, and Witch Child especially, have loomed so large for so many years in this witch’s life. (I think you can assume I ‘quite liked’ them.)

Celia Rees herself, has always been a formidable force in the world of YA, as far as I’m concerned. She occasionally goes all modest and reckons no one will remember her old books (except me). But they must! They should!

Searching to see what I have written about Witch Child, I discovered an old post where Daughter was in a bookshop, desperately wanting to urge the mother with the daughter to let her buy the book, seeing as the girl had picked it off the shelf in what seemed a meaningful way. But no, mum did not allow it, and this mum’s daughter was too polite to burst in between perfect strangers.

What could it be the mum didn’t like? I’m guessing there are more strong feelings around, still, regarding the burning of women as witches hundreds of years ago. But that’s why you should read this book! It’s important, as well as tremendously good entertainment. And Sorceress continues this vein of importance, looking at the way women and girls have been treated over the centuries.

Read!

Unusually for anniversary editions the publishers have kept the original covers (which I gather were always considered successful), and added some gold, just to celebrate.

As for this witch, I will always put Celia and her books on the top rung of YA. The best books are not always those published in the last few months.

Beauty Sleep

When you wake up after a sleep lasting over forty years, what do you expect to happen?

Laura was frozen some time in the late 1980s, suffering from an incurable illness, and now that it’s 2028 she’s awake, having to get used to all the scientific ‘advances’ that have been made. So it’s mobile phones and computers, and it’s getting your muscles to obey you when you start to walk again.

But what else? This thought provoking novel by Kathryn Evans is pretty scary, and surely the Mrs Coulter-like character can’t possibly be as awful as she seems?

Well, I’m not going to tell.

Set in and around a future Brighton, it’s both new and strange, but also reassuringly ‘old’ in a way I’ve not come across for years. I’d have expected the police to be worse. Also, the setting of a new school for Laura is less of the catty and more, well, mature.

At one stage I wasn’t sure I could face this future Laura was having to deal with. But if she could, then I would. This is so well written, and unusual. Makes me wonder why more novels aren’t written on this kind of topic.

A Fantastical Escape

This was a great event to end the book festival with! Eoin Colfer is always fun, and he was complemented by Cressida Cowell and Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and kept in some sort of order by Mairi Kidd. There were many laughs and if you hadn’t read all the books yet, you’d want to by the end. Mairi was hoping there were some in the audience who still had this to discover.

Despite ‘promises’ there was no dog, sleeping or otherwise, nor a rear end of cat. But we had a past – Irish – laureate, and the current children’s laureate, and maybe a future one? Cressida was in her kitchen, Kiran in her Oxford office and Eoin was delighted to be anywhere, even in Dublin.

He was feeling smug, having written a picture book and a drama during lockdown. There was ‘nothing he could teach his sons that they’d want to know’ so he mostly ‘read books’ [on Netflix]. So did Kiran, but as she’s married to her illustrator she needed to get some work finished. And Cressida had read her books on YouTube, loving her own jokes, long forgotten.

People with a high IQ are more easily disturbed by noisy chewing. This is a fact. Apparently. Eoin wore his glasses to improve his high IQ look, and to seem more trustworthy as he talked about his fraternal, con-joined twins…

Kiran, who at a young age was traumatised by the tunnel in Eoin’s The Wish List, always has strong ideas of what her characters look like, but can’t draw them. Cressida might be an artist, but has bad visual memory, citing a pear with the stalk at the wrong end.

Eoin regrets the fact that children grow too old to dare write fiction, believing they must do it in a certain way. Kiran used to write as a child, but had forgotten this, until her mother reminded her of it, and reckons that’s 15 lost years where she’s not been ‘using it’ to make it stronger.

At this point Eoin disappeared. Broadband issues? (When he popped up again he blamed Brexit. Something about a hard border.) He’s scared by public speaking. Who’d have thought? After 25 years he’s less worried. His worst experience was doing a parachute jump. Not his choice. It was a gift from his wife… And the cords tangled.

Kiran likes the adrenaline pumping, and bungee jumps are her thing. Caving, not so much, But she got out eventually, that time, and she didn’t drown the time she wasn’t waving at her dad, either.

‘Not usually an issues guy’, Eoin is most pleased with his book Illegal. Although in Ireland you are not supposed to be proud of your own work, but as this is a collaboration, it might be OK. Cressida always likes her latest book best, and she’s always proud. With barely a minute to go, Kiran said her book titles are so long she didn’t have time to list one. Maybe the most recent book.

On your marks

I own far too many bookmarks.

But still, I felt ridiculously pleased at the sight of this bookmark, when it arrived in the company of three books I’d bought. I was quite pleased at the sight of the books too, obviously.

It – the bookmark – is pretend vintage plus it reminds me of Oxford; the place where I first came across Blackwells. Now you get Blackwellses all over the place, but at the beginning of time it was special. (It was so special I seem to recall I bought an LP on my first visit. A literary LP, of course.)

And I have to say, now that I have just about overcome my reluctance to paying for books, I feel really excited with my recent order. And my other recents, which in this case were from actual shops. And I don’t mean Tesco.

Although, where I’m going to get enough reading time from I have no idea. Perhaps order some of that, too?