Category Archives: Reading

The Unpredictability of Being Human

I loved this book.

I’d have read it much sooner if there had been any mention of it being an aspie novel. This is not – necessarily – something you discover by leafing through a few pages. To me it looked like your typical Americanised school relationship story, albeit a good one. And I could never get my head round whether it was translated or not. Seems it’s not, as Linni Ingemundsen is Norwegian, but presumably wrote her book in English. Americanised English. I am being aspie about this, I know. But I believe Malin, the main character in this book, would understand what I mean.

Linni Ingemundsen, The Unpredictability of Being Human

14-year-old Malin watches the time and keeps us posted on how many hours and minutes and seconds it has been. She is open-minded, but clueless, which leads to her doing whatever the others at school tell her to do, when really it would have been better if she hadn’t. Very temporarily Malin acquires a friend, one who looks out for her, until she loses her by not understanding what you say or don’t say to others.

This is the story of her life, as Malin goes from one slightly baffling thing to the next. You can Google life, but that still doesn’t mean you get it right. As happens all the time in real life, she is suitable fodder for the mean girls in her class. Her dysfunctional family are more ‘normal’ than Malin, but not normal enough to realise quite how much she needs their help.

This book has it all; sex, drinking, how to avoid drowning, lying, how to kiss a boy, what not to do with scissors, dislocated shoulders, and death. If you’re not Malin, it comes across as mildly humorous. For Malin everything is puzzling. Unless it’s maths.

There is a genuinely Norwegian flavour to everything, including words and phrases not translated. I think I can guess what lapper might be.

Malin is a wonderful character and I wish her well for the future. I hope for someone to explain the weirdest aspects of ‘normal’ life to her, when she needs it.


The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

As I read The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell, I was already in a mood for a very good book, Cambridge scientists were topical, and I do think about the environment quite a bit.

I love it when a middle grade book is more than a fun read for that age group, and actually appeals to me, for my own sake. Admittedly, Zillah has a publicist adept at twisting arms, but then some of the best books I’ve read have been the result of arm-twisting.

Zillah Bethell, The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare

Auden is eleven and suffers from achromatopsia. And also ‘slightly’ from sarcasm. The first one means he can’t see colours, and the second means he’s rather fun. In Auden’s world they are at war, over water, which is so scarce that they are always thirsty and they smell, because washing doesn’t happen much.

His mother and Auden move from London to Cambridge, to live in his [dead] Uncle Jonah’s dilapidated house. Jonah was a scientist, and before long Auden and his new friend Vivi make a discovery in the garden. At first they don’t know what any of it means, but they are intelligent children and they work things out.

While this is a sort of eco adventure, you can’t get away from the horror of a world with hardly any water; where soldiers from the Water Allocation Board are armed to stop people from stealing a few extra drops to drink. It makes you think.

I really liked this book!


My heart is still beating. I mean, that is obviously good, but it did go thump thump thump rather a lot towards the end of Teri Terry’s Deception, the sequel to Contagion. This, too, ends with, if not exactly a cliffhanger, then with lots of questions left unanswered. And there has been much deception, and probably will be even more in the last instalment.

Teri Terry, Deception

More people die. Lots more. So if this was real, I’d definitely be dead. And as in Contagion, Teri kills both good characters and bad ones.

The disease keeps spreading. The carrier knows it’s their doing, but for a long time no one else realises who’s the guilty party.

We gain a few more major characters, because all this couldn’t be left to Shay and Kai and Callie to sort out. Some of them die. Some don’t. Not necessarily the right ones. But I quite like the set-up over dinner one night when one character demands of another that she teaches them to kill. ‘Show us again,’ … ‘If anyone comes around with a flame-thrower I want to be sure how to do it.’

The bad guy has become more obvious in Deception. Unless he’s merely misunderstood, of course. But I don’t think so. And while believing that we all have some good and some bad in us, I’m not counting on this one rescuing us all in the end.

There is deception in most of us too. We don’t always admit to everything, and sometimes we deceive. Intentionally. All is fair in love and war?

If you want a dystopic thriller, Teri Terry is your woman.

The Children of Willesden Lane

This is not a fictional tale about WWII, but the memoirs of Lisa Jura, who at the age of 14 came to London from Vienna with the Kindertransport. Written by Lisa’s daughter Mona Golabek with Lee Cohen, it is a simplified version of what Lisa used to tell Mona about as she grew up.

It lacks a little of the good quality story that you come to expect from this topic, but in the end I found I just wanted to see what Lisa’s life would have been like in England during the war. And as with many other books about refugees in the past, the reader marvels at how differently [from today] the new arrivals were treated by the British. At how many opportunities were offered them, even during the war.

And it makes you feel ashamed.

Lisa was one of three sisters, chosen by her parents for her age – not too young and not too old – and for her skills in playing the piano. They hoped she would be able to make something of herself in a new country.

Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, The Children of Willesden Lane

Things didn’t always go to plan, but the new arrivals were looked after. In Lisa’s case in a house full of child refugees, in Willesden Lane in London. And that confirms my theory that when you lose someone, while no one can replace dear family members, if you have someone else, your life isn’t empty. The children of Willesden Lane had each other, and they were looked after and loved by Mrs Cohen.

While not unique, this is still a very heartwarming, true story. Bad things happened, but the good things carried people through.

I would like to hope for a few more Lisas today.

Hills, and snow

In just over a week I have reviewed three books, all with things that connect them – at least in my mind – in that odd way I find when randomly selecting books to read. Or is it so random? Maybe the books tell me to pick them? Because in some cases I know so little about plot or setting that I can’t subconsciously be choosing the snow theme, or the computer theme, or the mermaid theme. Or the anything else theme.

The books on my mind today are Belle and Sébastien, Orphan Monster Spy and Astrid the Unstoppable. On top of that, there is the snow we had more than we wanted of.

Belle and Sébastien had lots of snow in it. An avalanche and more. Astrid skis and sledges in snow, and she even had lots left, high up, after Easter. That’s Norway for you. I don’t know that there was snow in Orphan Monster Spy, but because I had snow, and the setting of southern Germany made me think Alp thoughts – possibly incorrectly – it took me back to Sébastien’s Pyrenees.

Yes, those mountains. Lots in the Pyrenees, lots in Norway, and presumably some in Germany.

Two of the three books are translations, which is unusual enough for it to stand out. And the third was set in another country, with plenty of languages being mentioned and used.

I myself had plenty of language to use when looking out my windows too.

But at least the good thing about being marooned by snow and having several excellent books to read, is that the two combine so well.


Above, my personal avalanche, waiting to happen.

Finding Matt

I was getting rid of more books the other evening. After weeks of staring at flats for sale online, and admiring how nearly all of the owners have managed to prune their belongings to a ridiculous extent for the estate agent’s photographer, I felt that I would quite like my home to look as though it was for sale. Even when it isn’t. The empty surfaces appealed to me.

Hence the books facing the chop. Some were easy and some were keepers. And then there was one, which I didn’t immediately recognise from the spine, so pulled it out to look at. It turned out to be a short story collection from almost five years ago. Written by already authors as well as hopefuls, with a connection to MMU’s writing school, I remembered them sending me the anthology. I kept it because it looked good, and then I moved house and it sort of disappeared, until I found it this week.

And that was a good thing. Had it been much earlier, the name Matt Killeen would not have meant anything to me. (If you look back to the beginning of this week, you’ll see his debut novel reviewed by your Bookwitch.) I had seen in the press release that he was an MMU alumnus. And here he was, hiding in ‘the gym’ which is where my intermediate reading material rests.

Timelines (MMU)

In Lucky Hits the Skin, we meet a young drummer boy in the army, during the [I think] Napoleonic wars. It’s short, but those ten pages are at least as good as the WWII novel Orphan Monster Spy. It’s nice to see that so many of the people who enrol in the writing schools at our universities show so much promise, and that they go on to be published, and hopefully madly successful. (Liz Kessler is one of MMU’s.)

Now that it’s out of the gym, so to speak, I’ll have a go at some of the other stories, too. Coincidence is a funny thing.

Astrid the Unstoppable

You probably haven’t read Maria Parr’s Astrid the Unstoppable yet. In which case you are very lucky indeed, for what a glorious story this is! I felt so happy, having access to Astrid’s never-ending adventures. (In real life I might have got wiped out by the unstoppable-ness, but in fiction? Never!)

Astrid is the only child in the Glimmerdal valley, somewhere in northern Norway. It almost doesn’t matter, because 74-year-old Gunnvald in the nearest house is her best friend. They have a very special relationship.

It’s a story about kindness and [super-]energetic behaviour, about absent parents, and about belonging to a community. This is so wonderful. I thought Maria’s first book Waffle Hearts was special. Well, Astrid the Unstoppable is even more special.

Eventually there are a few more children, and Astrid even learns to cope when it turns out Gunnvald has been keeping a big secret from her all her life (almost ten years). If you want the perfect children’s book, look no further! Here you have courage and friendship and fiddle music, and as much madcap sledging and skiing as you can digest.

It’s more than refreshing to have a story where the children can go about on their own, with no need to kill or otherwise remove the responsible adults. I never lived in a place like this or did what Astrid did, but I still felt this was a return to my childhood.

And I cried when reading the piece about Astrid’s aunts.

Maria Parr, Astrid the Unstoppable

‘Astrid thought that God must have been having a good day when he made her aunties.

“Today I’m going to come up with a surprise,” said God, and then he started putting together an auntie.

He made her skinny and freckly, and decided that she would crumple up like a concertina when she laughed. Then he stuffed her full of noise. He’d never put so much noise in an aunt before, Astrid thought. God decided that she would like everything that was funny, everything that made loud bangs, and everything that moved fast. When he’d finished, he took a step back and looked at that aunt. He’d never seen anything like her. He was so pleased with her that he decided to make another, so by the end of the day, God had made two aunts who looked exactly the same. To put the icing on the cake, he took an extra fistful of freckles from his freckle bowl and sprinkled them all over both of them, especially on their knees.

“Knee freckles are my favourite thing,” said God.’

(Beautifully translated by Guy Puzey)