Category Archives: Review

Blindside

Blindside is a dyslexia friendly revised version of Aidan Chambers’s Cycle Smash, from almost 50 years ago. If you read it as an adult, your heart will be in your mouth as young Nate cycles off into the evening. Because you can imagine it being your child and you can tell what must be about to happen.

But if you’re a teenager, it will presumably just read like an interesting and exciting story about an athlete who likes running, and who is about to go on to great things. Were it not for the bike accident, of course.

Aidan Chambers, Blindside

Seriously injured, Nate is furious that he won’t be running again, and is not terribly grateful for actually being alive. We see him in his hospital bed, feeling sorry for himself and ready to do really stupid things. But then – and I reckon this is where the original date of the story shows through – his kindly nurse tells him what she thinks of his behaviour and sets him off on a new course.

Because there are people far worse off than Nate, and it’s time he realised this. As he does, you might want a tissue handy.

And if you are a parent, you’ll be out locking your child’s bike away.

Rilla of Ingleside

I’d read L M Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside before. A long time ago. It was the one I remembered well but couldn’t get hold of as I bought all the Green Gables books in English, thirty years ago, so I’m particularly pleased it’s one of the ones re-issued by Virago. It’s also the first book to bring the reality – for normal people – of WWI to my attention.

L M Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

I mean, if L M Montgomery couldn’t even fictionally keep Anne Shirley’s family safe from the war, then no one was safe. Which, obviously, was the truth. Before Rilla I had callously imagined that people back then were used to it and that it was a long time ago. And anyway, Anne lived in Canada, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the trenches.

Rilla of Ingleside is a sweet book, for all that it features the war so much that there is barely room for any romantic nostalgia for life on Prince Edward Island. Anne and Gilbert are growing old, and back then 50 was probably a lot older than it is now. So we concentrate on 15-year-old Rilla as war breaks out, and her brothers and friends go off to fight, one after the other, or at least to do their bit for the war closer to home.

The years between 15 and 19 were meant to be the best of her life. Instead they changed her completely; making her someone who could quite capably knit socks for the soldiers by the end of those four years. And a few other things, too.

Like what you can use a soup tureen for, and that it is possible to love an ugly baby that isn’t even yours.

There were just two things that made me cry, though. It was the neighbours’ little boy, Bruce, picking flowers for Anne (stupid Witch, crying again, now), and Jem’s dog, waiting all those years for his master to come back on the train. (Get me a hanky!)

You presumably know all this already, but when you love Anne and all those she loves, you do tend to go on about it a little.

The Lost and the Blind

Declan Burke writes thrillers like he does crime novels, seemingly just taking what’s around him, turning it into the most exciting of novels. Not every author can put him or herself into a book and get away with it. Less still their child, but what’s a thriller without your small girl’s Barbie?

Declan Burke, The Lost and the Blind

In The Lost and the Blind we have the separated Irish journalist Tom, who makes ends meet by reviewing films. Tom is hired by a wealthy American who wants him to ghostwrite a book about the killing of some young children during WWII, something which eventually causes Tom to run for his life in the company of a lovely female; his six-year-old daughter Emily.

Tom is a nice, peace-loving man, but he is no fool. On the other hand, as it’s his turn to have his daughter, and he needs to make sure he is a good dad so he stands a chance of getting custody of Emily, he can’t go off on the usual macho hunts for bad guys. As in some of Declan’s crime novels, I was enjoying reading a thriller which does all the right things, but with rather less bloodshed than you tend to expect.

Although that only works up to a point. Just warning you.

This is an interesting mix of ordinary Irish life from the days of the country’s economic collapse, and flashbacks to WWII in neutral Eire, featuring German soldiers and the IRA, as well as an English spy.

And none of it went in the direction I would have guessed, had I been capable of guessing. Very, very good.

Apache

Well, wow! That’s not all I have to say about Tanya Landman’s Apache (a very long overdue read for me; the details of which I won’t bore you with), but it’s a good start.

Tanya Landman, Apache

I wonder what it is about the 19th century United States that fascinates me so? Tanya is obviously drawn to write about it, and I like reading it. If I say it’s a relic of watching Westerns as a child, I’m probably going to upset someone, but I suspect it is.

Siki is Apache, and an orphan. Aged 14 when the story begins, she has just watched her 4-year-old brother killed by Mexicans, and she swears she will avenge his death. Siki has never been interested in women’s work, and strives to be accepted as a warrior, along with the young males.

Set in Arizona near the Mexican border, life as the Apache have known it is swiftly disappearing. It’s not only the Mexicans who are a threat, but the white settlers arrive in vast numbers, seemingly trampling on all that Siki and her people value.

Tanya mixes Apache daily life and rituals with the thriller that is their quest for revenge for the massacre of mostly women and children. Siki is skilled and brave, and for this she attracts both admiration as well as hate from various members of her tribe.

In one way you could decribe this as a fairly low-key story, were it not for the sheer horror of what happens to the Apache in their own country. And then there is the thrill of the skills they use against their enemies, not to mention the almost-not-there love story. It’s incredibly powerful.

I learned things I didn’t know before but should have, and I was thoroughly entertained by this history lesson. Both sides in this story can be seen to be right – and wrong – at the same time. If you are white, you can see why the white people behaved as they did, even if you feel shame over it. And the Apache are simultaneously both sensitive and seemingly callous, but because you’ve read what has happened to them, you can more than see their point.

Apache is really a very marvellous book. Tanya is hard on her readers, but rightly so.

Thank you, Jackson

Being polite never hurt anyone. That is the lesson for the farmer who owns a donkey called Jackson.

The farmer needs Jackson to walk to market with him, carrying all the food the farmer has to sell. He does so, until the day when he’s had enough and refuses to move, no matter what the farmer says or does.

Niki and Jude Daly, Thank you, Jackson

His wife Beauty sends their son Goodwill after the pair to help. And she has truly brought up a lovely and thoughtful boy, because Goodwill knows what Jackson needs.

He wants his owner to be polite.

‘It’s the little things, like saying please and thank you, that make a big difference in the world.’

Good Colours

Aino-Maija Metsola’s Colours may well be the most perfect ‘educational’ boardbook in existence.

Let me make a confession here. I have a thing about colours. I like to load glasses and mugs and similar into the dishwasher in a pleasing way, colour-wise. Same with hanging the washing. If I can, I will put things that look good next to each other. Likewise wardrobe contents. And so on.

Aino-Maija Metsola, Colours

So it stands to reason that a book about colour, which has a double page for each colour is very near perfect. If things are to be orange, they are all orange together. The yellows are the pages before the oranges. Each double page also has one ‘wrong’ colour which doesn’t belong, for the young reader to find the odd one out.

I don’t mind this so much, as the cuckoos in the nest are fairly small and in no way ruin the beautiful arrangement of reds or blues or purples. And there are flaps to lift, which is always fun.

Aino-Maija is Finnish, with a Marimekko past, which explains the colour sorting. I don’t usually hang on to boardbooks once I’ve ‘read’ them, but this time I’m tempted. Orderly colours are really very soothing.

Dot & Anton

Erich Kästner, Dot & Anton

This is another feelgood story by Erich Kästner, with iconical illustrations by Walter Trier. I settled in with this as a special Easter reading treat, thinking how ‘idyllic’ that period between the wars in Germany seems in literature. No sooner had I thought this, but I realised that it’s not true. There was a lot of poverty, as well as riches. Rather like now.

It’s about little rich girl Dot, who is quite an unusual child. When we meet her she appears, to her bemused father, to be selling matchboxes to the wall in her room. There is obviously a reason for this. Dot’s father is rich, her mother is a woman who shops and ‘has migraines,’ and they have several staff; a chauffeur, a maid and a governess.

Somewhere, some time, Dot has met Anton, who is a poor boy with a sick mother, trying to make ends meet while still going to school.

It’s fascinating to see how the two children get on, despite the differences in their lives. And in a fairy tale sort of way there are wicked crooks and brave children, policemen who do what policemen are supposed to do, and everything works out in the end.

It’s the moral happy ending which proves this is historical fiction and not set now. It would be less likely to happen today. Unfortunately.

The child in me wishes it could still be like this.

Dot & Anton is a quietly humorous story, and the moral musings by Erich Kästner at the end of each chapter make for a different style of book. He tells the reader what he believes, and then invites the reader to consider what their opinion might be.