Category Archives: Review

Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

Suddenly there are unicorns everywhere! And I thought they were extinct. I mean, not real. They are mythical creatures often found in fiction. As in Lindsay Littleson’s brand new book Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, where they are an endangered species. But real. Maybe.

Of course they are. Rhona and Lewis can see them clearly, starting when abseiling while on a week’s wildlife experience with school.

And when they find a .., well I can’t tell you what they find. But they know they have to do something and go looking for unicorns to save. In case they are real. Which they are.

Lindsay Littleson, Guardians of the Wild Unicorns

But there are bad people in this world, even in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and the two children know they need to act before it’s too late. It’s quite magical, but also very real and gritty.

Lewis is a loner who would rather do anything but be out there in the wilds. His only friend, Rhona, loves it, but then she has kept her home life a secret, meaning Lewis has no idea what she’s wanting to escape from. At least she’s nice and warm in the jacket from the school’s lost property box.

Together these two courageous, and occasionally scared, children meet magic in the woods. And their teachers have no idea!

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Summer of My German Soldier

It became necessary to take plenty of breaks. Usually this is a sign of a not very captivating book, but with Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier, it was imperative not to read too much in one go, and not because I wanted the book to last longer, either. It was ‘just’ too strong stuff. I needed to brace myself, somehow.

I’d already forgotten that that is what Lucy Mangan says in her Bookworm memoir; ‘when I reread it now, I have to put it down every few pages and walk around for a bit to let it all bed down before I am ready for the next chapter.’ Because it was on her recommendation that I bought a second hand copy of the book.

Bette Greene, Summer of My German Soldier

And if I only have one of her favourites, this has to be the one. Rarely have I come across anything quite like this WWII story about a 12-year-old Jewish girl in Arkansas, who ends up sheltering an escaped German soldier.

Patty is an unusual girl, not loved by her family, but very intelligent, except perhaps when it comes to understanding when not to say some things. Beaten often by her father, it’s hardly surprising she laps up the kindness and politeness Anton Reiker has to offer. They have intellectual conversations and Patty learns about his home in Göttingen.

You know this can’t end well, and it doesn’t. But this must be the best really bad ending to a children’s novel I’ve ever read. Whether I could have coped with reading it in my early teens is another question entirely. Probably not, would be my guess.

Written thirty years after it’s set, I don’t know if Bette describes the American south correctly, but it does feel like it. German soldiers were obviously bad. So were Jews, and also all black people, whose job it was to clean and cook for everyone else. There is unexpected goodness in places, but otherwise this is harsh.

If it was difficult to read for any length of time, then it is harder still to work out what to read next.

I suppose I could reread it…

Mortimer and the Sword Excalibur

Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake, Mortimer and the Sword Excalibur

I’ve come to the end of Joan Aiken’s short books about Mortimer, the slightly naughty raven, and his Arabel Jones. As I have probably said before, these books are a lovely piece of time travel, back to that underestimated period that was the 1970s. It shows that anything you write about ‘now’ will one day mean travelling back in history, if you are only truthful enough about what it’s like now.

I suppose the title gives it away somewhat, but this is a story with an Arthurian flavour. Mortimer shows an unsuitable amount of enthusiasm for the neighbour’s lawnmower, and that is pretty much it. I can see where Arabel’s mother, Mrs Jones, gets annoyed with the family’s pet raven.

Arabel herself is being ‘threatened’ with a new dress. Pink. What’s so fascinating about that is that this is how it was; the making your own clothes, and how you made them, showing Joan Aiken knew a bit about dressmaking, which is now rather a lost art.

As for that sword, well…

(Mortimer-ish illustrations by Quentin Blake)

On the Come Up

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been on all the lists, including, strangely enough, IKEA’s. I was aware of the book. Well, you can’t help being aware, but somehow felt it might not be for me.

Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

So when I wanted to read something by Angie, I decided to go straight to her second novel, On the Come Up. I’m not sure I know exactly what that means, but it doesn’t matter because it is Absolutely Fantastic.

Bri is 16 and wants to be a rapper. She and her brother live in poverty with their unemployed mother Jay, who must be one of the greatest fictional mothers ever!

I’m not sure whether the story is set somewhere real, or made up, but it feels very true. Bri and a few of her black friends are bussed out to a white school, where their parents hope for a future for their children, and the school hopes for more funds for taking them. It’s a school where the guards on the door unfairly target the black students.

Bri’s dead father was a famous rapper and she wants to be like him, except more like herself. It’s a hard world, and a dangerous one; white police on one side and enemy gangs on the other. Drugs. Violence.

Now, I know virtually nothing about rapping; what makes it good, or even why you do what you do. I’m old and white and I don’t get it. But I love this book. I’d have liked a soundtrack, just to keep me in there with Bri and her friends, and her drug dealing aunt and the neighbourhood children.

Yes, I know. I sound like some idiotic old white Witch. But this is one great book, with characters you’d like to meet.

Read it, even if you are a bit old.

Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

(I bought my own copy, so feel less guilty about saying that the UK cover above does rather less for me than the US cover, top, which seems much more Bri.)

Love is all around us

At first I tried to brush the blossom off, before I discovered that it was part of the book cover of In Blossom by Yooju Cheon.

This beautifully monochrome picture book with pink blossom is rather romantic. It fits in with how some of us might feel today. Cat comes to sit on the bench under the cherry blossom to eat her packed lunch.

Soon after Dog comes to sit next to her, to read his book. And the dangers with cherry blossom is how it might blow from one sensitive little nose to another, and then…

Yooju Cheon, In Blossom

In Teresa Heapy’s book Loved To Bits, her illustrator Katie Cleminson shows us what one little boy’s teddy looks like. Looked like.

Because during all those exciting adventures the boy and his ted have, bits of him fall off. It can be hard to have fun and not lose the odd ear or arm.

This boy loves his ted, no matter what, and eventually when there is less of him, it makes ted even more loveable.

Teresa Heapy and Katie Cleminson, Loved To Bits

Thyme Running Out

Far too many years after I read Justin Thyme, the first book about the Thyme family, I returned to these rich and slightly odd people in Thyme Running Out. It is just as much fun. And I might know who Panama Oxridge is.

Panama Oxridge, Thyme Running Out

There is time travel. Whether this is the cause or the cure of what happens remains a mystery. My brain has serious trouble getting itself round quite so many twists and turns. It almost gives me a haddock, as the cook, Mrs Kof, would say.

There are dodos. Obvious, when you can go far back in time. And you can never be certain if any grandfathers are their own nephews, or whatever. I don’t think I’m giving anything away. I didn’t entirely grasp who the bad guy really was. My mind boggled. A. Lot.

It’s the kind of time travelling whodunnit where you suspect everyone, including dead people and ones not yet born. At least I think so.

Billionnaire Justin is still only 13 and is still having to be the man of the castle. His older sister Robyn helps a bit, but dad Willoughby continues to be feeble, even if he means well. There is an evil new nanny. Every story should have one. And Eliza, the gorilla, is behaving oddly.

Who is Agent X? Well, there is no shortage of suspects. And you could feel that with time travel, maybe they are all X. Drumnadrochit is not as quiet a place as you might think. Also, I’m a firm believer in Nessie.

There is only one thing… This was meant to be a trilogy, and that being the case, the second book ends in such a way that you want more. Need more. Panama..!

Hello Lighthouse

Sophie Blackall’s new picture book Hello Lighthouse is a work of art. It’s a story, too, of life in a lighthouse, but you could very easily just drool over the pictures.

Sophie Blackall, Hello Lighthouse

There is something very special about lighthouses. I adore them. It’s the architecture, and the fact that they stand so alone, either by the sea or in the sea. They’re romantic, too, but probably more so for those of us who don’t live there.

I suppose this is a children’s book… It’s all quite grown-up, beginning with a new lighthouse keeper arriving, seeing him work and how lonely he is. Then he is joined by a wife, who shares in all the hard work. The dangers, the isolation, the heroic saving of people in emergencies, the heroic giving birth to a lighthouse baby. Family life at sea.

It’s beautiful. And if it weren’t for all the stairs, I’d live in a lighthouse.