Category Archives: Reading

The Fowl Twins

Would it work, this move from Artemis Fowl to his twin brothers Myles and Beckett? Could they be as charmingly bad as their big brother, and would we miss Butler, and what if Eoin Colfer had lost his touch? Yes, yes, yes and no.

They seem so young! Eleven is nothing. But the Artemis we first met was similarly young and just as crooked, and intelligent, calculating everything he did to suit him. Myles is a cold fish, not hesitating to hack Artemis’s security system to get things his way. And Beckett, well, a delight, but one who would quickly wear you out if you actually met. If he was actually real. Charming, and not quite as stupid as he makes you think he is.

Eoin Colfer, The Fowl Twins

Being twins they have that unspoken way of working well together, and the mere fact that Myles has prepped Beckett to do what needs doing, when it needs doing, is a testament to both their abilities. And they have NANNI, an AI minder (who can also be a little hacked).

We have fairies. (It’s an Irish story, after all.) One Barbie-sized troll, who is quite vicious, or would be, were he not encased in plastic. One small, but ancient, non-magic pixel (half pixie, half elf), who is less invisible than she thinks.

And we have baddies. A Spanish speaking nun and a Duke from Scilly, who is very old. Plus the requisite horde of stupid muscle.

Together they all make for a fun and fast paced reading adventure.

There is no point in me explaining anything that happens in this first book about the Fowl twins. It’s just one of those times when you sit down and read and enjoy the ride. I mean, maybe not when face-to-face with the shark. But otherwise it was – mostly – lots of fun. What am I saying? It was fun the whole time. Except maybe for the nits. And, er… yes. Fun.

Guilty

As I tossed another book (adult crime, since you ask) aside, and recycled the press release, I congratulated myself on how easy it was to decide not to even pretend to be interested in reading the book. No sense of guilt at all.

That’s because it was an unsolicited crime novel from a publicist I don’t know, and who has clearly inherited my name and address from someone. They must also have enough of a budget for doing this with little or no checking up on any resulting reviews.

(The book might be great, for all I know. If space was not an issue, I’d possibly stack it up for my future house arrest days. But I don’t suppose I can hope to live through that many years under house arrest, seeing I’m no longer a spring chicken.)

But the word guilt triggered, well, guilt. Because the rest of the time I feel it in respect of books I’d like to read, authors I know and like, and publicists I might have made promises to.

And I have a family who are so dutiful in their general behaviour that guilt is right there, often on a daily basis. It’s hard to banish, even when you know life’s too short, and all that. Plus the fact that guilt should be saved for graver situations.

So it was quite nice to have that fleeting insouciant no-guilt-here moment.

Jane Eyre

It was good to revisit Jane Eyre after all these years. Barrington Stoke have just published a dyslexia friendly, short, retelling of the famous Charlotte Brontë novel. Tanya Landman has written a more than creditable short version, and one that I enjoyed a lot.

Tanya Landman (Charlotte Brontë), Jane Eyre

I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to make such a long novel into a short one; one that actually works. I’m certain it was neither quick nor easy, but the result is a perfect literary summary of an old classic.

Tanya’s version contains most of what I remembered, skipping over one or two sub-plots with just a few paragraphs (which is obviously how one does it) to get on with that which matters. The only major fact missing is Jane’s inheritance, but in the long run it’s not massively important.

She can still marry Mr Rochester and live happily ever after. (I hope this doesn’t count as a spoiler..?)

A classic has to be one of the hardest things to access if reading is difficult. I guess watching the film is the nearest, but won’t give so much flavour of the real deal. That’s what you get in something like this Jane Eyre.

I hope the book will be a happy discovery for many. Jane is still a most interesting heroine.

The Good Thieves

‘What do you think of Katherine Rundell?’ I was asked in an email, chatting to one of ‘my’ authors, some time last year. My response was that I didn’t think, really, as I’d not read any of her books, but that her new one, The Good Thieves, looked very promising. Except I’d not been sent a copy, and when I checked in the shops it was a hardback and a bit pricey.

Katherine Rundell, The Good Thieves

But I had gathered that Katherine Rundell is an author of interest in the business. So she and her book went on my Christmas wish list, and here we are. (Father Christmas took pity on me.) I’ve had a most enjoyable read of this children’s ‘light crime’ novel, set in New York in the 1920s. It’s not just the cover that is gorgeous.

The pace is slow to begin with, detailing the arrival in New York of Vita and her mother, on a journey of mercy to rescue her bereaved grandfather. But she has plans, and accidentally coming across three unusually talented children, she plans another kind of rescue than the one her mother is working on, with lawyers, etc.

Vita wants to restore her grandfather’s lost castle to him, and throws herself and her three new accomplices into a minor war with a mafia style group of vicious men. They may be powerful and cruel, but they’ve not counted on Vita, or Silk, Arkady and Samuel. Each has very useful skills.

The plot as such isn’t necessarily all that original. What makes The Good Thieves such a special tale is the way this plot is executed. There are little surprises here and there, and there is so much warmth, and courage.

I’d have been quite happy for the book to be longer. But on the other hand I wouldn’t have wanted to inflict more pain and injury on our young heroes. And I suppose I can always run away and join a circus.

(My thoughts on Katherine Rundell are that she’s a very good thing. I might have a need to read more of her books.)

With the Fire on High

Not poetry this time, but a prose novel about Emoni, a young single mother still at school, living with her grandmother and working really hard to keep afloat both as a high school student and as the mother of a toddler.

Elizabeth Acevedo, With the Fire on High

Elizabeth Acevedo has written another fabulous book, that I would like to think many teenagers will love. The topic is interesting and the writing is great. While the short chapters make it easy to read, they also make it hard to stop. ‘Just one more chapter. All right, just another chapter then. And one more.’ I could have read on and on.

Emoni has a talent for cooking. It’s what she does to relax, and it’s what she wants – needs – to do for a living, once she graduates high school. But there’s Babygirl, there’s ‘Buela who’s struggling to make ends meet, there’s Emoni’s absent father, her best friend Angelica, Babygirl’s dad, and then there’s the new boy at school, Malachi.

I could identify at least four ‘problems’ that would need solving by the end of the book. Elizabeth surprised me, again, by taking the story somewhere a bit different, and the plot did its own thing, and it was exactly right. Emoni is a first rate role model for young girls, having learned the hard way to stand up for herself.

This is lovely and life affirming. Single mothers are a good thing. So are young ones. It’s not age or marital status that makes or breaks a parent. It’s the world around them.

And I wouldn’t say no to some of Emoni’s food.

Little Women

I was about eleven, maybe twelve, and I thought it was a stupid title. Unga Kvinnor it was called in Swedish. But it was a gift – most likely from the Retired Children’s Librarian – and in those days I combed the shelves at home for possible books to read, so I read it. Despite the title.

It didn’t take many pages before I was hooked and I loved it and I read everything about the March girls, like generations of other young females.

Little Women

We went to see the film this weekend and on the way home Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant ‘fought’ over who’d get to read it first. It’s probably a reflection on them having enjoyed the film… As did I. The director, Greta Gerwig, is quite possibly a genius.

Starting at the end made a tremendous difference. If nothing else, it created a sort of Schrödinger’s Beth; you never knew whether she was still alive, or not. At times it was a little hard to be sure where in the story we were, although the length of Jo’s hair helped.

I hope lots of young readers will see this film, and not just us oldies who know what to expect. I hope it means they will read the book, and that it will change many lives. Apart from my early dislike of the title, I grew up at a time when classics got the attention they deserve. Now, I suspect most younger readers stick with new fiction [because there is so much of it]. Emma Watson has helped, by hiding/leaving copies of the book in London, as well as thousands across the UK as a whole.

Find it, read it, and leave it for someone else to discover.

Louisa May Alcott, Unga kvinnor

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Casting around for more Christmassy books, the only one I could find was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I’d not read it since prehistoric times, so felt it would do. I believe it was on television not too long ago, but I couldn’t recall who’d dunnit. If television even had the same murderer.

Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot's Christmas

It’s not terribly Christmassy, though, is it? Set during a few days over Christmas, but with the festivities cancelled by the bloody murder of the rich old man whom everyone but his eldest son hated.

I vaguely recalled the how of the crime, and the gist of the who, but that was all. I realised one should concentrate on the kinder/better end of personalities, and to allow for some happiness at the end. Not that most of the characters are nice. On the other hand, the corpse had not been kind when he lived.

But I’m intrigued how much books like Agatha Christie’s change when reading them from ‘the inside’ by which I mean in the country in which they are set. Everything looked so much more exciting when viewed from another country. I’m totally with Pilar who was disappointed in the Christmas she’d been led to expect.

Too late for this year, but I need advice on more Christmas novels. Preferably cosy ones that leave a warm glow.