Category Archives: Review

No Man’s Land

It wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting, this dystopian story by Joanna Nadin. It’s actually quite scary, in more ways than one.

Set in a future that doesn’t feel either all that far off, or terribly unlikely, it can certainly scare us adults. Whether young readers of a similar age to the main character – Alan – who is ten, will read it as ‘merely’ a futuristic adventure, I can’t say.

Albion is a far-right country, getting ready for war with the foreigners of Europe. There are pockets of non-Albion areas, like Caledonia (good old Scotland!) and also No Man’s Land, which is where Alan and his little brother are sent by their Dad, to be safe.

They don’t want to go, and – at first – they don’t like it there. But you get used to things. Just as you will continue longing for that which you miss very much.

Alan knows he’s no hero. He just does his best.

And I will pray that our future looks nothing like this Albion place.

The Dying Day

Persis Wadia is still as awkward as she was in Vaseem Khan’s first book about this pioneering female detective in 1950s Bombay. She shoots people (villains) and she solves the crime[s] put in front of her, despite ‘just being a woman’ in this man’s world. But Persis is also a little bit inept at romance. Which of course makes it all the more fun. Will they get there in the end, or is it going to be such slow going that they never do?

This time someone has stolen a book. But not just any book; Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which was being translated by a specialist, who has also disappeared. Possibly with the book, or it could be a coincidence.

Time is of the essence, and then Persis is handed another crime to solve. This one is a supposed suicide, which quickly becomes a murder case.

As in the first book, it’s fun to see Bombay as it was, shortly after independence, and to do so not through the eyes of a man, or a white person. We learn more about Persis, her past, her friends, even her lover. And her colleagues are growing, becoming more interesting, promising more books with more depth.

The Drowned Ones

The third instalment of Ellen Renner’s trilogy about Storm, the witch of more than one of the elements, follows in the footsteps of Storm Witch and Under Earth. It has the same reassuring feeling of belonging with your people as I discovered in Storm Witch, and which moved me so.

Admittedly, Storm starts off in a dire situation here, because where would a heroine be without her cliffhanger? She’s with her enemies, or at least some of them. She’s not really sure who she likes, or trusts, any longer. My vote would always be for Nim, despite what he did.

But there are the others; ones she started believing one thing of, only to wonder if there’s more to them. In a really good story there will be.

So, out at sea, all tied up, in the company of the one who killed her beloved mother. And then ‘rescued’ by someone who in turn wants to kill her own mother. There’s a lot of killing of mothers. And brothers. It’s how you make enemies.

I was wondering if Storm had left her own island behind for all time, but we do get to visit it again. I’m glad, because it reinforced that feeling I had of belonging.

For the rest of the time Storm and her friends and enemies have to work hard to restore some sort of sense to their respective worlds. Just because your tribe are responsible for doing bad things, doesn’t mean some of them aren’t all right. Just like you.

Bad Dog

It will be some time before I relax when we go to the park again. All those dogs running around.

Bad Dog is Alex Smith’s second book featuring DCI Kett, and he is no more sensible this time round. He risks his life, while his three young daughters are at home, missing their mum, but thankfully being looked after by someone who is good at it.

This one, as you might have gathered, is about dogs. And I’m sure you can work out what a bad dog might do. (Don’t read this with a meal!) But I like Robbie Kett and his fellow detectives, and even the boss, Clare, when I can remember that he’s not a girl, and that Clare is his surname.

There are dog attacks in the woods. There are some quite unsavoury characters living nearby. In fact, there are a number of neighbours, and you need to take your pick as to which way to direct your suspicions. (I was mostly right. But that only makes you even more worried about how things will develop.)

The girls are lovely, if somewhat wild and noisy. They, and I, would like DCI Kett to stay at home in a calm and orderly fashion for a little while, but that will never happen. Especially not after that cliffhanger.

A Cat Called Waverley

Debi Gliori’s new picture book, A Cat Called Waverley, is a piece of art, as well as a sweet animal story. And also a comment on how harsh life is – can be – today.

Drawn mostly in black and white, with a few ginger touches, plus some yellow in places, we meet newborn kitten Waverley. At first he’s rather like Six Dinner Sid, with many friends in many places in Edinburgh. He likes Donald the best.

But, as happens far too often, his Donald has to go to war a long way away. Waverley follows him as far as he can, which is Waverley station. Life in Edinburgh changes for the worse, and war isn’t much fun either.

And then, like his famous dog peer before him, Waverley waits for his human. The people at the station are kind, but they are not Donald.

And… well, read the book.

What I, the adult reader, love about A Cat Called Waverley, is that it’s possible to have a traditional picture book for children, which combines some glorious art with a commentary on some of the less attractive things about life today, while also showing the goodness of many humans. This still happens. I hope we can hope.

Thicker Than Water

The second DCI Jack Logan thriller, by J D Kirk. This is what I went for last week, abandoning something that wasn’t doing it for me, opting instead for what Kirk’s alter ego Barry Hutchison cheekily describes as ‘quantity before quality.’ (This was ‘my’ second of the Jack Logan books, whereas in real life there are now about ten, unless he’s got to no. twenty without letting me know…)

It is quality. Yes, these are comfortable length, fast paced crime stories, but they are good. I’ll have to buy the next one(s) now.

I worked out, or rather, I sensed, who had done it from very early on. I just didn’t know how, or how the team would work it out and what impact it would have on them. That’s what makes you sit there as they chase after all the other potential suspects, until soon there is only one left. And you wonder how much peril there will be as the police discover their mistake.

Nicely set in and around Loch Ness, I can see how tourists might want to come and sightsee the murder scenes or picnic where the bodies were found. It all rings so true, too. I know very little about murderers and the police, but the books have got a nice Scottish feel to them.

The Climbers

Boys will be boys. Keith Gray gives us two teenage boys, both keen climbers (of trees), starting out as rivals, enemies, even. It’s a small village, and Sully goes round saying he’s the best climber in the village. For some reason no one seems to disagree with him. Openly, at least.

When Nottingham arrives in the village, he seems to believe he is better. Or as good as.

There is one as yet unclimbed tree, and the first to climb it gets to give the tree its name. Sully considers this his right.

It’s interesting to see how his friends react to the newcomer as well as to the climbing shenanigans the two get up to. Sully wants to win. The question is what Nottingham wants.

This should be good for boys to read. Girls, too, but I suspect boys need this kind of thing more; a masculine competition threatening to ruin everything.

Who’s right? And who is best?

Addis Ababa Noir

What I found when I wanted to read the next short story in this anthology, was that I had to take a rest. The stories in Addis Ababa Noir are that powerful. The finished story was good. Ergo, I wanted to read the next one. But they do need space between them. At least for me.

But it’s good, this collection of fourteen stories, edited by Maaza Mengiste. Just quite noir. Although the title tells you that.

I wasn’t sure I’d like it. Because I like what I know, and apart from a couple of children’s books set in Ethiopia, I don’t know the country very well. Having said that, I don’t think these stories make me want to visit. The settings are bleak. But then, some of the stories are placed in a period when things weren’t good. And the mere fact that most of the authors seem to live, at least partially, in other countries, tells you something.

The reading is easy, except if you stop to consider the lives of the characters, and how quickly things can go wrong. At times I wasn’t certain if some of the wrong moves were accidental or done on purpose.

But as I said, this is good stuff.

A Different Sort of Normal

As I discovered 14 years ago, it can be hard to know who wants to read books about autism. Those who have it, or those who don’t but want to learn? Children, or adults?

Abigail Balfe’s A Different Sort of Normal, about her own life up until her current age of 35, is for everyone, I’d say. But I feel Abigail is mostly talking to young, possibly not yet diagnosed, people.

Anyway, there is lots of advice here, and the most important is that you’re all right. The way you are. Abigail only got her diagnosis two years ago, so has spent many years simply being weird. Haven’t we all?

And let me just say this now, I can’t stand Punch and Judy. But until I read about poor Abigail’s poor mother booking a Punch and Judy show for her fourth birthday party, in order to seem normal, I hadn’t really considered why I don’t like them. Just been puzzled that others do.

Abigail is also an artist, and has illustrated every single page, so the reader can see what she was like as she grew up, and share the funny, silly little things that happened, the way they have happened to many others. There’s a lot about toilets, but it appears she and I don’t see eye to eye on the subject; just that it’s important.

This is a fun book about autism, albeit a little on the large side to hold. I’m slightly concerned that it won’t get to younger readers with autism. I don’t know who decides that someone is ‘autistic enough’ to need a book like this, or how they would find out about its existence. But if and when they do, I expect it will help a great deal.

Summer

The last of Ali Smith’s four seasons. I read somewhere it’s the longest of the four books. For me, it could have been longer still. It turns mostly full circle, letting us spend more time with the characters from Autumn. And Winter. Less so from Spring.

I actually sat down and tried to draw a kind of family tree for the books. It’s quite satisfying meeting and re-meeting people like this. It feels real, rather than them being merely fictional characters. My favourite one from Autumn came back, which made me happy. She gave even more depth to this family tree.

And I’m not sure, but I imagine the reader knows more than the characters do. About how they tie in with each other, I mean. A typical book of fiction would explain who’s who in some way. But what you discover here is that it doesn’t matter. If receiving a small violin in the post makes a person happy, then it does. No matter how it all ties up.

There is much goodness in here, contrasting with all the bad stuff we are living through. Ali obviously intended for Brexit to feature, but she couldn’t know about Covid for Summer. It works, though.

If someone could enlighten me as to which Charlotte it is we are seeing in Summer, I’d be grateful. But perhaps this, too, does not really matter. Also, English speakers have a real problem with Elisabeth without a z, don’t they? Might also not matter.

I feel revived and slightly more cultured than I was at the beginning.

There is hope. If that’s enough, I don’t know. But one can hope.