Category Archives: Review

The House of Light

I’ll start World Refugee Week with Julia Green’s The House of Light. Set in a grim future, it is still mainly about whether you will stand up for, and help, a refugee looking for a better place than the one they came from.

And maybe you also need a better place, in which case you are a refugee-in-waiting.

Julia Green, The House of Light

Set somewhere on the west coast of Scotland, Bonnie lives with her Granda after her mother left them. It seems her mum had had enough of the enclosed life they were forced into, where everyone is kept track of and no one can leave. At least not when they want to. And since she took their boat, it’s not as if they have the means to leave.

So Bonnie’s excited when she finds an abandoned boat on the beach, but then later also finds the boy who had come in it.

This is a lesson in humanity; what you do about someone who’s not meant to be there, and when you yourself have very little to eat, and you are always cold. But Bonnie’s been brought up right by her Granda, who has every reason to be proud of her.

It’s the kind of situation where you ask yourself what you would do if it happened to you. I don’t know about the washed-up stranger, but the world they live in seems a lot closer right now than any of us would like to think.

Describing a harsh life that you would automatically believe was in the past, it’s a bit of a shock to discover this might be our future. And that all countries are not as bad as this one…

Advertisements

Owen and the Soldier

I’ve never considered talking to statues, or even those waxwork figures you might find yourself sharing a bench with, at first believing they are real.

But of course they are real! In some sense.

Lisa Thompson, Owen and the Soldier

In Lisa Thompson’s Owen and the Soldier, 13-year-old Owen talks to a stone soldier in the nearby park’s war memorial corner. His life isn’t great, and it helps to chat to this soldier who seems so good at listening.

And then he discovers that the council are going to make ‘improvements’ to the park and the old soldier is due to be removed. In the midst of trying to deal with his problems at home and the demands of school, he needs to save his soldier friend.

This story could empower readers both to tackle problems and to seek a conversation partner for when they need to talk. Brief, but lovely.

Respect

Some time ago I read a newspaper review of a book I myself had not only read and thoroughly enjoyed, but reviewed on Bookwitch.

The reviewer, whom I respect, had also liked the book, but puzzled me by describing it, using a direct untruth. It wasn’t even the borrowing from the blurb on the back thing. It was stating something about the story that was a lie.

Had the reviewer in this case not read the book, but caught an idea from something they’d seen? Or had they read and enjoyed the book, but still managed to misunderstand the context? Or plain forgotten, by the time they came to write the review?

I’m just curious.

For anyone seeing this and deciding to give the book a go because of what was claimed, it could be a disappointment, despite the book being so marvellous. Or they’d feel they were glad they were tempted, as they had now been introduced to a lovely book.

Many years ago – 15, in fact – I read a mention of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now in the Guardian. I ordered the book on the strength of me understanding it was about WWI. But that was me not reading properly; nothing to do with the Guardian. It caused me to read the first chapter of HILN several times while my head tried to make sense of the lack of WWI or the early twentieth century.

But once I’d done that, I was happy to have found the best book I’ve ever read. And all because of a misunderstanding, by me.

I’m still curious regarding this other book. Did a respected reviewer in a respected newspaper forget to read?

A is for Alibi

You can tell I’m a little behind, can’t you? Only by 33 years, but still. Sue Grafton was only known to me as the woman who wrote the alphabet crime novels. For years I didn’t know if they were good, quality, or just light crime. And when one day I came across A is for Alibi in a charity shop, I decided this was the right book to start with.

And then a few more years passed. When Sue died, not long ago, Sara Paretsky said some lovely things about her peer. And more recently she said some more, and someone else whom I respect also mentioned how important these books were to her, and I got the A book down from my bookcase.

How things have changed! Published in 1986, it is almost a lesson in modern history, what with phone messenger services, and typewritten case notes stuffed in desk drawers.

I enjoyed this tale about the ghastly man who was murdered, and whose second wife was believed to have done it. Now out of jail, she wants PI Kinsey Millhone to find out who really did kill him.

My instincts were right. Partly. The whole case was more complicated than was first obvious, and with a few more killings, Kinsey had a lot to look into.

Loved her comment at the start, that the police believe ‘murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right – a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.’

Also loved that Sue began by plotting to kill her ex-husband, but decided to write a book instead. Good idea.

Maresi, Red Mantle

With Maresi, Red Mantle we are back with Maresi from the Red Abbey. Maria Turtschaninoff’s final book in the trilogy is based on the letters Maresi writes to her friends and to the older, supportive, women she left behind on Menos when she started the long journey home to Rovas.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi, Red Mantle

This story about her new life back in the old place is, if possible, even more feminist than the first two books. It also has more men in it, which sort of hits you after a while, because you have got used to the – almost – women-only groups in Maresi and in Naondel. Even knowing what the first books are like, I still found myself feeling surprised at the sheer strength of a woman’s power.

That is an empowering feeling for any reader. So are the wise thoughts that Maresi shares with us, whether they are her thoughts, or those of her mother or her sister, or simply observations on life. They are so true, and yet, we often miss such obvious ideas, because we are so busy with life, maybe making mistakes, or assuming too much, based on what is traditional.

I kept wanting to cheer her on, to tell Maresi that she could do it. But it’s never easy to return to a place where you once belonged. You’re home, and you’re not. How do you know where you really belong? And does it matter, when it’s what other people think of you that determines how your life goes?

Maresi’s job is to start a school. That may seem an obvious task, but it’s hard, when people can’t see what good it would do to read. And then we are shown how life can go wrong, just because you didn’t know what was written on a piece of paper. It’s more than a matter of life and death.

And the pleasure you get from reading, or being able to write letters to someone. It’s as if all of life is in this book. Read it. You will feel better for it.

Maresi, Red Mantle tells girls that they matter. That they can, and should, do things. It tells boys that girls can, and that the boys will be better for it. It’s very beautiful.

(Translation by AA Prime)

Lampie and the Children of the Sea

This is such a marvellous story! One of those far too rare, perfect children’s books. And as often is the case these days, it has come from abroad. I understand that Annet Schaap is a well known illustrator in the Netherlands, and Lampie and the Children of the Sea is her debut as a writer.

Lampie lives with her dad in the lighthouse where he is the keeper, and she increasingly has to do his work for him, until the night everything goes wrong. As punishment, Lampie is sent to work in the Admiral’s Black House, across the water from her lighthouse home, where rumour has it there is a monster.

When she gets there, she is not expected, nor wanted. It’s a bad time, apparently. And there does seem to be a monster.

Annet Schaap, Lampie and the Children of the Sea

It’s hard to describe what happens, without giving too much away. But there are huge dogs, a backward boy, a circus and lots of pirates. And the ending doesn’t go in the direction I thought it might, and is all the better for it.

Let me just say that I recommend you read this book, and that you give it to every child over the age of eight, or so.

(Beautifully translated by Laura Watkinson, and many thanks to Pushkin for finding and publishing books like this one.)

Dreamwalker

There’s nothing like a little push to get going. So after years of intending to read James Oswald’s Sir Benfro series, I have finally begun. And while I had originally assumed that if a crime writer also wrote a fantasy series, then it would be YA, and then discovering that it wasn’t and feeling foolish about it, I do feel that Dreamwalker would fit right into the YA world.

So there.

This is another novel that was first self-published by James. I don’t know how many changes were made when Penguin bought it, but I am impressed by the quality of yet another, long and excellent novel, written and edited without a ‘proper’ publisher. I’m not surprised the books were popular.

JD Oswald, Dreamwalker

Sir Benfro is a young dragon, and his future co-hero Errol, is a lost human prince and heir. The two meet very briefly at birth, but then they spend their early years apart, while leading really quite similar lives. Both belong to tight-knit communities, and both are brought up by single mothers who work as healers and who are wise in how they deal with their boys.

Sometimes, no, nearly the whole time, it’s hard to tell the boys apart. It’s easy to see that when they finally get together, it could be really special. Although I don’t know this, as I’ve only read the first of the five Sir Benfro books.

It’s not obvious how this is going to go, but I have much hope for the remaining books. And they will have to be taken very slowly…