Category Archives: Reading

Death on the Edge

It was lovely to be offered a short story by Sara Paretsky last week, as we wait impatiently for her new novel Shell Game which will be out in four weeks’ time.

Death on the Edge features V I Warshawski back in her childhood neighbourhood, sorting out a fatal dispute with a school background, under the critical eye of her former boyfriend Conrad.

It’s a story that has all that you expect of a V I story, except that it is shorter.

Aimed at the American market (or did the rest of us just get forgotten?) it’s not entirely easy to buy this short e-story. But I set the Resident IT Consultant to work, and after masquerading as his younger brother for ten minutes, the story was in my possession.

Sara Paretsky, Death on the Edge

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George and the Ship of Time

The sixth and last book about George, and I’d been on tenterhooks ever since Lucy Hawking had him jump aboard a spacecraft heading into outer space at the end of the fifth book. It’s a good cliffhanger, but I was sure George would soon be back on Earth again, among his friends.

I was right. Sort of.

George and Boltzmann, the robot, return to Earth after first having failed to turn the ship around. But it’s not exactly the place they left; it’s hot, dusty and deserted. But Boltzmann assures him they are ‘in Foxbridge’ where George lives. Lived.

Lucy Hawking, George and the Ship of Time

After a slow start, where I kept expecting things to become clear and a bit more normal, this story turns into a fully fledged time travel dystopia. Where the earlier books have featured criticism of aspects of modern life and the way science and the environment are ignored by the government, this is much more serious.

The duo do meet up with humans, and other creatures, odd robots, but they live in the future. George is seen as strange, if not downright dangerous. They’re in Eden, which is paradise. In a way, at least.

There is much that is dysfunctional in this place, ruled over by a tangerine coloured man by the name of Trellis Dump. The second Trellis Dump. I’ll leave you to interpret that as you see fit.

The reader keeps thinking that this can’t really have happened. If this is the future, then George’s family and friends must be dead. But if this Dump era can be reversed, then the people alive now would cease to exist. It’s quite a conundrum, and I won’t tell you how it ends.

I would like to think that those who read this book will have, or adopt, sensible opinions regarding war and destructive weapons, and climate change, and possibly even oddly coloured politicians.

The really shocking aspect about all this is how long the war lasted.

(As always, illustrated by Garry Parsons, and at the back of the book there are scientific papers aimed at its young audience. But I missed one by Stephen, as he used to sign off.)

The Thin Blue Line

Or Den tunna blå linjen, as it is in the original. This is Christoffer Carlsson’s fourth and final book featuring Leo Junker, and like many reviewers have pointed out, it has a rather good last line. But I’ll let you get to that on your own.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den tunna blå linjen

It worked quite well, reading this now, with me having skipped books two and three. I got to know Leo in the first book, and now I was able to catch up with where he’d got to, guessing a few things, about colleagues and lovers. There was enough to tell me what had happened to his school friend Grim, on the other side of the law.

Grim reminds Leo about the young Chilean girl they met years ago, and who was murdered five years before this story takes place, and asks, no, demands, that Leo looks into her unsolved death again. And this really opens a hornet’s nest.

This time Leo isn’t half drugged all the time, so he functions a little better. He’s also been reinstated as a policeman (although, for how long?) so can do what detectives need to do when they detect. Though at times it appears as if Swedish law makes it hard for the police but easy for the criminals. So it’s fair…

Stockholm is as unappealing as it was; the suburbs, but also the supposedly nicer places in the city centre. In the police you have crooked people and stupid people, as well as the hard-working middle ground people, trying to keep the place safe.

I couldn’t help but feel bad about the fate of the Chilean refugees/immigrants, who must have arrived with great hopes, only to end up dead, or very nearly.

Christoffer’s knowledge of criminology is what makes the plot so believable. It’s different to many other crime series where you suspect that the author just made stuff up. This really does feel like the inner workings of the police force, where the law in its eagerness to protect everyone, makes it impossible to corner criminals in a way that they can be tried in court and jailed.

There is also remarkably little violence. It’s the lack of hope that gets to you.

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

You remember the piano-playing Bear? The Bear who couldn’t help but play the piano, and who became incredibly famous and successful?

He’s still big – he’s a bear, after all – and possibly taking so much of the attention that other musicians hang up their instruments. It’s what happens to Hector, a fiddle player, who’s never seen without his friend, Hugo the Dog. They go home, and Hector not only doesn’t play any more, but mopes. And sleeps. And with Hector’s back turned, Hugo starts taking an interest in the abandoned fiddle.

Hugo might be just a Dog, but he can play. And then he’s recruited by Bear, to join Bear’s Big Band.

As in many friendships, words are said, and Hector and Hugo part.

But because this is a children’s picture book, it’s not hard to work out what must happen. Tears everywhere.

David Litchfield, The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

The illustrations in David Litchfield’s book are so gorgeous and so grown-up – by which I mean they appeal to adults – that you just have to love this book. For me it’s another instance of wanting to tear the pictures from the book and frame them.

True Sisters

Sisters. Who’s a true sister? It could be your actual sister, or someone else, or both. You don’t even need to have a sister to have a sister.

Keren David, True Sisters

Keren David’s True Sisters for Barrington Stoke is a short tale about sisters and friends, and how families work. Ruby has had lots of siblings, because her mum fosters children in need. Clara is the latest of them, and even though she has a blood sister, she doesn’t relate well to either Ruby or her mum. Her background has just been too weird; the kind of situation you might read about in the papers.

This has everything. There are family issues, there are race issues, and sexual orientation issues, as well as the common garden teen issues of growing up.

True Sisters should appeal both to readers with nothing much to worry about, but also to anyone who does feel they are having problems, or being the odd one at school.

I liked it very much.

Storm Witch

Ellen Renner’s description of Storm and her mother returning home in her new book Storm Witch took me straight back to my own childhood and the home where I lived with my mother. I have as good a memory of that time as can be expected at my age, but I have never before had that exact feeling conveyed in a piece of writing.

People sometimes ask if the writing in a book is good, and I don’t always know. This time though, I can tell you it is very good writing. I feel as if Ellen gave me back something I’d lost.

Ellen Renner, Storm Witch

Storm is 13 and it’s time for her age group to be chosen by the island’s Elementals. They determine what the young person will be doing for the rest of their life. It’s the usual drama; you fear you won’t be chosen at all, or that it will be the wrong choice, or that you will disappoint your family. Storm does too, and then she’s chosen by more than one of the Elements.

Being special isn’t much fun, either. And it doesn’t prevent the bullying. You might be the most powerful person on the island, but your bully still hates you.

The story is a mix of the normal childhood feelings most of us have, and then there is the magic, and the difficult tasks Storm has to tackle.

There are more books to come. I can guess at where Ellen will take her characters. I’ll be interested to see if I’m right.

10 reasons to love a lion

This picture book about lions, has a lion-shaped hole through its thick front cover. It makes you want to reach in and discover more about the lions inside the book.

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow, 10 reasons to love a lion

I especially like Hanako Clulow’s illustrations. There’s something satisfyingly classic about her lions which appeals to me.

But I do also find Catherine Barr’s facts about lions very interesting. There was much I didn’t know, like how the male leader of the pride can lose a fight against another male, and end up having to leave. (Made me sad.)

This book should provide a young child with plenty to look at, and plenty to learn about these dangerous, but impressive looking, large cats.

And that lion-shaped hole could get a lot of attention…