Category Archives: Review

North of Porter

I liked Kirkland Ciccone’s third novel, North of Porter, a bit more than I think he’s expecting. I reckon he’s found himself as a writer now. Don’t misunderstand me, North of Porter is still a crazy book, but it’s much more of the right kind of crazy. In fact, I suspect Porter is Kirkland.

Or should that be the other way round?

We’re back in Cumbernauld, or Castlecrankie as he calls it in order to throw people off the scent. Porter is a sad specimen of a teenager at times. And at times he’s really quite with it. He’d be better still if he didn’t obsess so much about his Dolce and Gabbana handbag.

His parents are crazy, and quite corrupt. There are aliens, one of whom is called JFK. Teenagers are going missing from Castlecrankie, and the workers at the pie factory are on strike. You have the usual crop circles. And then there is the poor cow that turns up in Porter’s flat, on the 16th floor. Also, his older brother is dead and his parents keep the body in a suitcase in the wardrobe.

Kirkland Ciccone, North of Porter

So there you have it. It’s the kind of list of craziness you end up with if you sit down to make a list. And then you try and write your novel as though you are a bit crazy too. You know, sentences like ‘he wasn’t gone long before something murdered him noisily.’ It’s bad, but by then you have come to expect this kind of thing.

It might be a government conspiracy, for all I know.

In all this craziness, the only thing I don’t believe in is the en-suite in Porter’s bedroom. I mean, this is Cumbernauld, for goodness’ sake. A high rise. A speaking lift that is obviously also crazy, seems quite normal by comparison.

So, yes. I didn’t actually hate it at all. It was fun visualising Kirkie and his handbag sorting the aliens out, and all that. Sorry, I meant Porter.

Same thing.


Or more accurately, Tutankhamun’s Tomb, pop-up style. It is quite amazing what can be made to pop-up, and tombs and dead kings are no exception. (Although, I suppose Tutankhamun doesn’t pop-up as such. Back from the dead, so to speak. But still.)

I was old enough to potentially be able to go and see the famous exhibition in London just over forty years ago, but it was before my time of madness and travel. A friend of mine went, though.

So he’s still mainly a name to me, Tutankhamun. Better known than others, but I’ve not had any images stuck in my mind, or any knowledge, come to that. Other than he was young.

What I hadn’t realised was that Howard Carter, who found him in 1922, had been at it since he was quite young, too. He came to Egypt as a 17-year-old, over thirty years before he met his dead king.

Tutankhamun's Tomb

I suppose that this book is more for slightly older children than you immediately think of for a pop-up book. Not so much for fear of ruining a pyramid or anything, but more that there are a lot of historical facts, and I doubt a really young child would have much patience with either Carter or Tutankhamun. If you’re doing Egypt at school, however…

Very fascinating.

(I believe the cover photo is the US version. Hence the different spelling.)

City Atlas

Travel the World with 30 City Maps. It’s Non-fiction November, and here is an atlas to inspire the reader to visit lots of cities all over the world. Or possibly ‘only’ read about them, which is equally fine.

Written by Georgia Cherry and illustrated by Martin Haake, this atlas is a little on the large side to actually travel with. It’s more for inspiration. The double page spread for each city is not so much an actual map, as a colourful sketch of the city, showing many of its most famous landmarks and pictures of people and possible activities. And for every city, if you look closely enough, you will find a small person saying hello, in the langauge of that country.

City Atlas

Sketch it might be, but looking at the cities I know, I feel it’s quite accurate. For Stockholm they’ve got Långholmen to the west and Gröna Lund to the east; just where they should be.

In London Henry VIII is skateboarding just where he always does… hang on, maybe not. But you get the right flavour for each city. (Not sure that fried fermented herring will tempt the Stockholm visitor, but it’s genuine.)

It can be quite tricky finding the small person greeting you, which is presumably intentional. That way you see everything there is to see while you search.


At first I thought I wouldn’t read Dreamland. It doesn’t look like my kind of book. But I did my usual and read the first few pages, and I found such a likeable ‘supporting character’ in Gollum, that I knew I had to read it. That turned out to be a good decision.

The main character in Robert L Anderson’s first novel is Dea, who is 17 and lives with her mother outside a very small town in, I think, Illinois. She’s always been different and an outsider, and Gollum is her first almost friend. Gollum is even less popular at school than Dea.

Robert L Anderson, Dreamland

Dea ‘walks’ other people’s dreams, i.e. she holds something belonging to another person and that way she can enter their dreams. Her mother is the same, and both of them do it because otherwise they become weak and fall ill. There are rules. You mustn’t be seen and you can’t interfere in the dream. And never enter the dreams of the same person twice.

When the gorgeous and friendly Connor moves in across the road, Dea has a friend, and a sort of boyfriend, and she decides to ignore the rules. Connor has a troubled past, and she wants to help him.

This is much more fascinating than it might sound, and I was hooked from the word go. You just have to find out what will happen, and why things are as they seem to be. It is very small town America, and Robert blends complete normality with fantasy in such a way that you simply believe.

As I said, you have to love Gollum, and Connor is an unusual teenage boy/romantic interest for this kind of novel, and it all feels very fresh. You find humour and friendship and courage and determination.

And there could be a sequel. If one is planned I don’t know.

W.A.R.P. – The Forever Man

That FBI. It gets everywhere, including the 17th century. But that explains a lot, actually. And it’s lucky they wear those fetching overalls, with the letters on the back, so you will know it’s them. And there is always one more wormhole through which any combination of characters can fall, to some time other than their own. Quantum foam. Hah.

Yes. So Eoin Colfer thought it’d be more normal to write about time travelling FBI agents than leprechauns. It’s easy peasy getting your head round tunnelling dwarves and foil-clad centaurs, but my head always gets confused when it tries to think about time travel. Like, if so-and-so did this then something would/would not happen. And you mustn’t meet yourself.

Eoin Colfer, The Forever Man

I enjoyed The Forever Man, which is the last instalment of Eoin’s W.A.R.P., the time travel-based witness protection scheme which put people safely in Victorian London. I wasn’t sure I would, as the time travel slipped back to Cromwell’s days – which I’m not keen on – and Riley’s old boss was going to reappear. I’d really hoped to have seen the last of him. But that strange thing happened; where you find yourself almost fond of the baddie, because you go a long way back and familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.

So – the now unkillable – Garrick is back, and his latest hobby is to burn witches at the stake. And he decides Agent Chevie is a witch. Riley needs to free her, but the trouble is that he and Garrick know each other so well, that it’s almost impossible for one to trick the other. Luckily the FBI has one or two tricks up its sleeves, and not everyone in this witch-hunting village believes that burning witches is a marvellous idea.

This is exciting, and romantic – yes – and funny. It even restored my faith in the FBI.

Eoin; please consult me if you need more timetravelling Swedish bores. Sorry, boars. Or similar. Especially if they are to be called Olaf.

One Thousand Things

This is more fun and useful than you might think at first. One Thousand Things by Anna Kövecses is simply that; lots of words for the beginner.

Aimed – I assume – at the young learner reader, it would work very well for someone older, but new to English, too. The whole book consists of pictures of fairly ordinary things, with the word next to what it describes.

Anna Kövecses, One Thousand Things

I haven’t counted them, but one thousand seems likely. And that’s quite a lot. You can go a long way with that kind of vocabulary. OK, they are mainly nouns, but you could always mime a verb to go with it.

Shetland Noir – the stories

They really went to town with their misused kitchen utensils. I’d say, never encourage a professional killer. They have enough horror to offer as it is.

I would like to say I enjoyed the little leaflet with the top three stories from the Shetland Noir writing competition. But enjoy isn’t quite the word I’d use.

Runners-up Matthew Wright and Marina Marinopoulos went for very bloody scenarios indeed. Kitchen utensils make you think kitchens, and from there it’s not far to food, and… Well, you get the picture.

Whereas winner Helen Grant was more restrained, if only by comparison. She has a gory corpse. She has made ‘good’ use of her kitchen utensil. I’ll say that for her. And I could sort of see where this story must go, which isn’t a bad thing. It built up the suspense quite nicely.

The Beach House, as her story is called, is all about death in a beautiful place. That makes it worse. I can visualise where the house is, and I can see the corpse, even though I’m trying not to. I’ll have to work on unseeing this at some point.


If Helen were to change paths and kill in the adult world from now on, I reckon she’d do it well.