Category Archives: Reading

From baby elephant to chair

Although I would call it more of a sofa. (Just trying to be funny. And failing.)

Vaseem Khan has been elected chair of the CWA, those literary ‘crime fanatics’ famous for daggers and stuff. But in this photo Vaseem is seated on something larger than a chair. He has blogged about it, too. The chairing, not the seat as such. Or ‘his’ elephant.

I didn’t actually know what the CWA do. Now I’m more in awe of the whole thing, and almost feel as if I’d like to join too.

Last week I quoted the first sentence of Vaseem’s first novel – The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – and then I read all the other sentences too. It’s been nice, getting reacquainted with Baby Ganesh’s entry into a world of crime. I love him so much, even if he is a little naughty at times.

(Photo Richard Frew)



This is the second novel set in Maria Turtschaninoff’s fantasy world, happening a very long time ago. Like her other stories, this is about the strength and courage of women, in the face of the frequently awful and unfair treatment at the hands of men. There is much female solidarity behind the scenes, because you must hide what you are able to do when it’s not what girls and women ‘should’ do.

I had forgotten quite how empowering reading Maria’s books can be. Except it’s not for everyone, seeing as Anaché hasn’t yet been translated into English. We need these stories. Especially for those of us who can’t ride or throw knives and hunt rabbits, or any of the other skills Anaché has. Her brother Huor is not one of the bad males and he has taught his younger sister everything, even if it had to be in secret.

Their mother is knowledgeable about other things, which also need to be kept secret. It strikes me how much better it would have been if all skills and knowledge could be shared openly.

Fathers are harsh, and the village leaders can be more so, but none so bad as the spiritual head of each village.

When catastrophes happen, Anaché is forced to act in ways a girl shouldn’t, but if she doesn’t, life as they know it will end.

I hope there will be a translation one day. We need books like this one more than ever.


This could have been written about me, the young witchlet. And for that reason, presumably also about many of you, and that will be why it appeals so much. Hilary McKay’s new book for Barrington Stoke is a sweet blend of loneliness and nature.

Jodie is new at school, and hasn’t made any friends. But she still has to go on the school’s trip to the field centre, staying overnight, sharing a room with five other girls, and not only has she got the ‘wrong’, new equipment, but the teacher she trusts is unable to come.

She ends up breaking the centre’s rules, partly because she needs to escape the other girls, and partly because there is this dog that keeps barking and she wants to find it, to help it. And then she gets stuck on the salt marshes.

She is so lonely, and so brave. She knows no one will come for her, no one will miss her. Or be able to find her.

This is a slightly supernatural tale of bravery, love and friendship. Not everything is as it seems.

The One That Got Away

JD Kirk’s new detective, DI Heather Filson, is slightly less refined than I had carelessly expected [on account of her sex]. There is sex. Much alcohol, plenty of swearing, threats, violence and death. The One That Got Away is well plotted, and it grabs you by your ****. You sit there, clinging on.

Child abduction is never pleasant. Everyone is reminded of the three girls from over thirty years ago, and for Heather it is extremely close to home. But at least the killer is dead. This has to be copycat. Unless the killer is less dead than assumed? But plenty of possible, unsavoury copycat sex pests out there.

Kept back by an incompetent boss, Heather gets impatient. She finds herself spending more time than she would like in the company of the local gangster, who has his own agenda.

A spinoff of the DCI Logan novels, there is also an ace 15-year-old autistic ‘sidekick’ for Heather, whom I would love to see more of.

This was one hell* of a book. What to read now? The next Heather Filson would be nice. I suppose that’s somewhat unrealistic as this one isn’t even in the shops yet. But considering how JD writes a new book every few weeks, I am hopeful.

(*Apologies for the language. I blame JD and Heather.)

Orkney bound

Not me, but the Resident IT Consultant. Ever since I read Joan Lennon’s Silver Skin eight years ago, I’ve been at him about going to Orkney. That book was enough to make even me want to go. Although there is the difficulty of picking your poison; boat or plane and feeling queasy whatever you do.

I might prefer time travel, which is what you find in Joan’s book.

(It’s possible he has wanted to go there for a lot longer. The Resident IT Consultant likes his history. But when he’d ascertained that I was happy for him to go, and didn’t want to come along, he asked to read ‘that book’. So I got it out for him.)

Although, there were stumbling stones. After much thinking, he decided to get the ferry from Aberdeen, which calls at Kirkwall on its way to Shetland. And then the day before, the ferry company wasn’t sure they would call after all, on account of a forecast of stormy weather. So we did some quick brainstorming (that kind of storm is all right) and decided that not only would he go for the short ferry route, but if he set out almost immediately, he could be sure to get his connection, up there in the far North.

Almost as though he was Paddington Bear, I made him a marmalade sandwich. Plus a sardine salad. A Resident IT Consultant needs to eat when less resident.

He caught his ferry and he sent a photo of the Old Man of Hoy as proof.

He’s now walked, and ridden buses, all over the place for a few days, and I have only occasionally stalked him using tech. It’s handy stuff. No need to phone and say you arrived. Because one can see that. Or at least, I could see that his phone arrived.

If you too want to learn more about Skara Brae – which was a very long time ago, much longer than you can imagine – I recommend Silver Skin.

And there had better not be an uneaten marmalade sandwich in that bag!

Holy sh*t

Pardon my French, but I have to get this off my chest or I won’t be able to go to bed. And sleep, I mean.

OK, let’s start again. Holy Island is what I meant. First crime novel of LJ Ross, whose efforts to become a success while bypassing standard publishing made me an admirer quite some time ago. Besides, I’m a sucker for a good cover, and hers are the best.

So when I finally decided to buy and read one of LJ’s books, I chose the first from 2015. Not sure what would have happened had I picked a different one. Anyway, I don’t like her detective. DCI Ryan can best be described as a very handsome Mr Rochester. Had I been fifty years younger, I’d have loved him and lapped up this story. At least until I got towards the end.

I don’t like the end. Or the epilogue, or the first chapter of the second book. Although in a way I’m glad it’s there, just to prevent me having another go.

But let’s face it. The effect the story has had on me suggests LJ knows what she’s doing.

The gorgeous image of Lindisfarne fits right in with my previous feelings about this interesting island and its castle. What could be better? Let’s just say I don’t think I need to consider visiting now. Yes, I know fiction is fiction, but there are limits. Besides tidal causeways don’t seem like such a good idea, now that I think about it.

For the most part I sat there reading, feeling it wasn’t quite as great as I’d hoped, but fine enough in its own way. The handsome detective and his romantic dalliance with a member of the public who is too involved in this ritualistic murder and the way we change points of view several times on one page made me feel uncomfortable. But as I said, I’d read on and see.

I did see. Not sure if one was meant to work out who the guilty party was, but I did. So probably intentional. The reader knows and can see how things are just going to get worse.

But I’m pleased for LJ and all her readers who have enjoyed this. It’s just not for me.

(And it’s ironic that I failed to find a usable image of the cover…)

Noah’s Gold

It would have been helpful for me to consider the title of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s new[ish] book. Not that I need to know what a book is going to be about, but there is a clue.

Anyhow, Frank can put his characters on a deserted island any time he likes, as far as I’m concerned. I was merely wondering to myself what the six children he marooned were going to do on this island, while also avoiding eating each other. I also wondered how he could make it so ‘fantastical’ while also perfectly normal, insofar that marooning on islands go with a day trip with your school.

Noah is in year 7, and just happens to end up in the van taking his year 9 sister Eve and four others to the Orinoco Wonder Warehouse. The gps isn’t working too well, which is why they end up on an island, and then Noah accidentally breaks the internet, by which we mean the whole internet everywhere.

It’s funny in the expected Frank Cottrell Boyce way. He writes nice characters and always a worthy main character, like Noah, and the reader can sit back and enjoy the ride. Not perhaps the ride to the island, but the general idea. Today’s children are not used to not being able to google facts, or to post their island adventures on social media. (Instead Noah writes letters home, posts them in the old style postbox, and even receives letters back…)

But you can still survive, especially with someone like Noah who is hardworking and earnest and sweet. He will repair the internet, and feed the others, and find a way home.

The humour is lovely. Perhaps because it’s based in goodness and innocence. The children are funny because they don’t know any better. But they try. And they don’t eat each other.

Looking back

‘Let’s see what the next weeks and the new decade have to offer.’ I had to write that, didn’t I? It’s the last line of my blog post from January 1st, 2020. It probably didn’t even occur to me to knock on wood.

Having discovered a new use for the old Bookwitch – the written version, not the cranky old female – I’ve looked over a few randomly chosen months. One of which was January 2020… I also jokingly mentioned my favourite mantra of reading materials for that scenario of my future house arrest I used to feel was unlikely, but which could be used for effect.

I mean, really!

The new use is clearly not wisdom from the past, nor even entertainment. But it sort of works as a diary. Not so much the ‘went out and bought potatoes’ type, but to take me back to what I did and what I thought about it. Because it’s astounding how easy it is to forget and how fast I can do it. I’m quite capable of reading a book review, and if the title and author had not been mentioned, I’d be hard put to know what book.

The flip side of it is that I could actually be tempted to read the book Bookwitch recommends. (I have recently been of the opinion that my reviews are dead boring, but perhaps not all of them then.)

The other place for memories is the social media memory (duh) page, where I find out what I said, or did, on this day in years past. It seems the Resident IT Consultant and I were quite inept at buying tiles back in 2015. We spent a whole day not doing it – when the whole purpose of driving out was to do just that – but we had a nice day despite this. Trying to rectify our shortcomings the following day, we couldn’t even remember what had brought us to Homebase.

Tiles! And my hearing is such that I generally hear ‘towels’ when someone mentions tiles.

Ah well. I’m sure someone somewhere is finding this interesting. My apologies to the rest of you.


When I got to the copy of The Bookseller which had its front page advertising Usborne turning 50 this year, I already knew that Peter Usborne, whose photograph was right there, had died. The day before the date on The Bookseller. Very sad, but he clearly did a lot for children’s books.

For quite a few years I believed that Usborne didn’t publish ‘real’ books, by which I mean mainstream novels and the like. I was wrong, and there have been a good number of YA novels just to my liking. It just seemed as though they weren’t always sitting next to all the other publishers’ books in the shops.

My own past with Usborne had to do with the bookselling parties. That was back in the 1990s. Possibly earlier and later as well, but this was my decade for selling parties in general. I was lonely, at home with Offspring, and as is so often pointed out, ‘there was no village.’ As an outsider I was ripe for selling parties; going to them and hosting them. I was also a pretty bad host, happily telling my prospective customers/guests that I didn’t care if they spent any money. I just wanted lots of people to come.

But I seem not to have ruined Usborne’s business. Possibly because I bought so many books myself, to make up any shortfall. We liked them. Content-wise they were just right, and they were so readable. While I can’t recall what the titles were, and I seem not to have kept them, they were gold for bedtime story reading. These stories could be read over and over.

And there was a video or two, mostly about the farmer, Mrs Xxxx (can’t remember her name). Much enjoyed.

So yes, Usborne should be celebrated.

(Coincidentally, I am reading an Usborne novel right now, and enjoying it a great deal.)


When you have a mother who can see ghosts, you sort of learn to expect to see them too. Or at least not to be surprised if you do.

It’s what happens to James in Marcus Sedgwick’s last book Ravencave, for Barrington Stoke. And he’s not scared. There are quite a few ghosts when all’s said and done, and I must admit to having felt sad when I finished the book. Understandable, I hope, since ghosts mean dead people, and it’s easy to feel sad when people are dead.

The family are on holiday in Yorkshire, walking and looking at the sites of old houses and buildings. Things are bad, what with James’s father having been made redundant, and James having problems chatting to his brother the way they used to.

It’s a sad book. Not badly so, but sad nevertheless. Extra sad because Marcus has since died, and James is thinking of death quite a lot.

But it’s also good, in the way Marcus always wrote a good story.