Category Archives: Review

Truestory

Reading Catherine Simpson’s novel Truestory, which is about a woman with an autistic son, I felt as if I’d never read this kind of story from the point of view of the parent. I must be wrong, but it seemed very new, somehow. As though I was seeing the same thing, but differently.

This is an adult novel – and I don’t mean that to signify sex, although there is sex – and I don’t always want to read adult relationship stories. But I’m glad I read this one.

Catherine Simpson, Truestory

Alice and Duncan live on a failing farm near Lancaster. They have been married for 23 years, and have an 11-year-old son, Sam, who is autistic. Sam refuses to leave the farm, virtually imprisoning his mum because of this. The dad seems a bit lost, not remembering what will set Sam off, and also blaming Alice for how Sam turned out.

And then, as the latest in a row of mad schemes, Duncan brings home Larry, a man he met in the pub, who suggested he should grow cannabis. Alice is furious, but Sam takes to Larry, and after a bit, Alice rather does too.

If it wasn’t for the autism, this could be any ‘romantic’ triangle drama. You like Larry but despise him at the same time. Duncan is hopeless. Or is he? Will Alice manage to leave the farm, and can Sam ever become more ‘normal’?

You can sort of see where this will go, but there are many surprises on the way.

Just as I said after the event in November where Catherine talked, I can identify with so much of this.*

Because of Sam’s limited lifestyle, this is a drama with five characters – the fifth being the neighbour – plus the weird people poor Sam consults online about the meaning of everything he discovers.

This is quite Shakespearian in some respects. Funny. Sad. There is some hope.

*Not the cannabis. Or Larry.

Advertisements

Women in Sport

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that interested in the Women in Sport book. That’s not because I thought Rachel Ignotofsky’s book was bad; just that I’m not that much into sport. But the way it is for women right now, how could I not read Rachel’s book?

I began by looking at the list of her 50 women, feeling a deep sense of shock at discovering I’d not heard of all that many. Why, when I have heard of lots of male athletes? I suspect it’s because they have kept quiet about the women, especially those from longer ago.

I didn’t expect to find the book all that interesting, despite what I’ve said above. But there’s something about the way these women, often only girls at the time, kept at it. In the face of what society said and thought, they practised until they were really good at their sport, and then they insisted on taking part in games and even on winning, when the world didn’t want them to.

And it’s probably not because the men thought they’d be losing to these weak creatures; I’m guessing they really thought they were not up to it. Go Billie Jean King!

Rachel Ignotofsky, Women in Sport

There I was, reading away about the many inspiring women, and I actually wanted to cry. I think it was the kind of crying when you are really, truly touched by what someone has achieved. Because I couldn’t even think myself into their mindsets when struggling to be allowed to join in. I’m just so proud of what they all did, every single one of them.

And weren’t those men stupid? In some cases they’d even forgotten to actively prohibit women in their games. It was just understood. But when one walked in, she had to be allowed to compete. 😄

Thanks for all you did, and continue to do, ladies!

Rebel Voices

It’s depressing how relevant this book is today. Louise Kay Stewart and her illustrator Eve Lloyd Knight can’t have known this when they started on their Rebel Voices, a book about women’s right to vote. They refer to the 2016 US presidential race, but we’ve fast moved in the wrong direction since then. And no one could have guessed the #metoo movement.

In pictorial form the two show how the women’s suffrage movement was first successful in New Zealand in 1893, finally making it to Saudi Arabia in 2015.

As a child I took for granted that we were equal and that everyone should have the right to vote. I knew that it hadn’t happened simultaneously for the sexes, but somehow back then the first couple of decades seemed long enough ago that I felt it was all right. I didn’t know that Evita Perón had to fight for the vote, and that despite her powerful position, Argentina only got there shortly before her death.

Louise Kay Stewart and Eve Lloyd Knight, Rebel Voices

I was 15 when Swiss women finally could vote! Before Jordan, but after Yemen. Now I find myself living through this late Swiss start and its effect on life today. It can’t be a coincidence that women still fare badly in Switzerland. Many of the men who happily discriminate today, began life in a country where women had to ‘charm’ men into doing what was needed.

The early successes in the fight for equality make for inspiring reading. It’s only knowing how the fight is not yet over which makes me sad and furious.

‘Every time a modern woman votes – whatever and wherever the election – she has her suffragist sisters to thank.’ Yes. And every time a woman ‘forgets’ to vote..? Because it’s ‘not going to make a difference.’

(Out today. Please teach your young ones about voting.)

Places in the Darkness

This is pure Heinlein Noir. Do those two words not fill you with happy (-ish) expectations?

When I heard that Chris Brookmyre’s latest novel was crime in a science fiction setting, I thought it sounded like a wonderful marriage of two great genres. It is. I was also indiscreet enough to say so out loud, and before I knew it Daughter had magicked us a copy to arrive practically overnight.

I never find myself awake at night, sifting through all I’ve read in a crime novel, looking for clues, remembering almost everything, trying to work out who did it, and how, and maybe why. With Places in the Darkness I simply had to. I did suspect who was behind things, and maybe one other fact, the spoiler-ish aspect of which, means I can’t elaborate. But the rest, no. Quite good, really, because I wanted to be surprised.

Chris Brookmyre, Places in the Darkness

Towards the end of this American style noir, set in a man-made world up in space, some time in the future, I couldn’t see how there was going to be time to end it properly, let alone in a good way. But I was ready for a bad ending if that’s what it took.

There is no serious crime on Ciudad de Cielo. At least no murders. But when Dr Alice Blake arrives on CdC, one has just happened, and Alice just happens to be the next head of ‘police’ up there. And when she starts looking into things, Alice chooses to work with Sergeant Nikki Freeman of the Seguridad (I love all the Spanish words up in this cielo).

Nikki refers to the place as Seedee, and it certainly is. And no one knows the seedier side of her place in life better than she does. Nikki runs protection rackets, drinks too much, has lots of lovers, but no friends. You get the picture.

After the first gruesome murder, there are plenty more. The question is whether Alice and Nikki can stay alive to solve them. There’s also the question of AI. How can you be sure you’re not talking to a robot?

Chris has clearly spent a lot of effort on building his City in the Sky, and it is so interesting, and anyone who loves Heinlein will feel right at home. It’s not the same, but it feels right. If you love noir, there is more to enjoy. And as a girl I approve of there being so many important women characters; strong women, whether a Goody Two Shoes or a bent cop.

I could return to CdC.

Storm Cloud

Jenny Oldfield’s Storm Cloud is a horse book with a difference.

Jenny Oldfield, Storm Cloud

Well, first it’s a Barrington Stoke horse book, so that makes it more accessible. But it is also much more of a young girl’s Western than I remember from my own horse book reading days.

So Kami is spending the summer at her friend Macy’s ranch, and she gets to help with rounding up the cows, as Macy’s dad has been injured after falling off a horse. This sounds perfect to me, or would have done, back in the day of my – slight – horse interest.

There’s obviously trouble at the ranch, or there would be no story. Kami is disturbed by what’s being done to the colt they call Storm Cloud, and she feels she must do something. But what?

This would make great reading for horse-mad girls, and possibly even boys. After all, it’s a ranch and it’s cow-herding.

The Rainmaker Danced

Poems are always hard to review, and poems and I don’t always see eye to eye. But there is something about this collection of poems by John Agard that drew me in.

Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, there is much to see and think about. Some of the poems are literally sitting inside the pictures, or otherwise a part of one thing, instead of separate.

John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura, The Rainmaker Danced

I particularly liked the poem about whether or not you believe in Nessie, which was beautifully illustrated with our favourite Loch Ness monster.

And I like the fact that John uses such ordinary words in his poems. Nothing too grand, as can be seen in the sad story about the Sputnik dog; ‘soon Laika is a goner.’

I don’t know whether this is more for children to read themselves, or if you read the poems to them. Both, probably. Or either.

Slaves for the Isabella

For entering a series by reading book five, I did quite well, I thought. In a way, time travel is time travel, and you can guess at things. At the same time, there were facts I didn’t know or understand, like why Joe wants to see Lucy so much.

Author Julia Edwards offered me the fifth and newest instalment of her educational, historical series The Scar Gatherer to read. If I understand it correctly, we have Joe, who travels in time with the aid of a St Christopher pendant. It – sometimes – takes him to somewhere in the past, and then he leaves it there, so that Lucy can call him back, in case he is returned to his own time. Until the last time, when he really does leave.

The thing about Joe’s time travels is that he meets the same people every time. They are different in the past and they are living in different pasts, but Lucy is Lucy and her parents are her parents. They don’t remember Joe, but he remembers them. The other characters are also recurring characters, but they play different roles each time. Except that Tobias is always a really unpleasant older boy.

This time the pendant takes Joe to Bristol during the slave trade era in the early 1790s, after the abolishment of slavery. The fact that Britain agreed not to trade in slaves, meant only that they didn’t trade new slaves. Lucy’s family are wealthy [this time] and depend on slaves and sugar plantations. Joe pops ‘ back home’ once or twice, and has the opportunity of learning more historical facts, which he then takes with him as he sees Lucy again.

Primarily, this is a way for middle grade readers to have fun as they learn about history. I learned a few new things myself, and that’s really the point about time travel.

I’m guessing that Joe travels in chronological order, as he’s been further into the past before, and I imagine he will meet Lucy again in a less distant past next time.