Category Archives: Review

Skulduggery Pleasant – Seasons of War

I don’t think we’re done. 😮

With Skulduggery Pleasant, I mean. Seasons of War is the, let me see, thirteenth book, not counting the one without Detective Pleasant. But I am not com-plaining. I’m really not. I like this world with all the double-crossings and the magic and the hastily cut off limbs and the humour and all the rest.

Valkyrie Cain makes friends with the oddest people, as well as unfriends with some you’d not expect. Along with Tanith Low we have a formidable pair of women heroes, in many cases fighting better than the rest.

Omen Darkly is proving himself, and I have hight hopes of him. Even if he didn’t in the end do that thing, you know, which I had been expecting.

I’ve remarked before on how confusing, not to mention convenient, it can be when dead people stop being dead, and when they become your enemies instead of your friends. In Seasons of War we see a lot of the other world, where they also have a copy of every person, and they’re not necessarily the same, like dead, or friend, or foe.

So a lot gets sorted out in this thirteenth book, but some doesn’t. And there is new stuff that will need sorting.

It’s fun. And interesting.

The Great Godden

This is such a beautiful tale about summer holidays. I rarely feel that anyone can describe my early summers, but in Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden, I could have been there. OK, my summers were more boring, with fewer sex gods turning up and less of the undercurrents.

Or maybe not? Obviously no sex gods, but this novel brought home to me how different the slow, languid summers with nothing but sun, sea and sand appear to the young, and what it must be like for their parents. The ones who still have to cook meals and run everything, let alone as in this case, organise someone’s wedding and sew outfits. On holiday!

We have the 17-something main character and her three younger siblings and their parents, arriving at their summer bolthole, to spend all summer, engaging in their kind of nothings as usual. Tradition matters. (At first I thought I was in New England, but realised soon enough that the family live in London, and were driving to the coast, somewhere. It didn’t feel quite English; more Swedish, or maybe American.)

Anyway, this is marvellous, and I defy any reader not to want to join the family, along with the cousins next door and the lovely dog.

And then the Goddens turn up; gorgeous Kit and surly Hugo. They really stir things up, with everyone in love with Kit (who between you and me is a real piece of work) and turning their backs on Hugo.

Our arty main character observes everything, while also falling for the great Kit. Not much happens? Except, of course it does. You just barely notice.

This is wonderful! I feel as if I’ve been given permission to revisit those careless days when I enjoyed life, with no idea how the adults fared; having to get on with each other, and put meals on the table.

The Short Knife

How hard are you willing to work for a carrot?

You couldn’t accuse the characters in Elen Caldecott’s The Short Knife of being lazy. This surprisingly topical historical novel is quite a thing. And by surprising I mean that Elen couldn’t possibly have foreseen the slavery business making the front pages as the publication date for her book grew near.

These slaves are white, and British, and their owners are also white, and more Saxon than British, but everyone has a bad side, whatever their nationality. In AD 454 the Romans have left Britain, and the Saxons have made the move to take over.

Mai and her sister Haf and their dad are poor, but live peacefully (in or near Wales), when their lives are interrupted, and ruined, by a few Saxon men. Much hardship and sadness follow, and the girls can’t be sure what will happen to them.

The story is told from two time perspectives; mostly from autumn AD 454 when the Saxons come, slowly leading up to the second one, where someone is giving birth at the same time as something vague but horrific has happened. So the reader both knows, and does not know.

You see both nationalities with all their faults, and some good sides. Having more than a measly carrot to eat is one of the good things about what might otherwise be considered pretty bad.

You feel you know what is happening, when Elen suddenly switches the truth of what we are seeing. And then again.

This is good writing, and a truly good story.

Mohinder’s War

Bali Rai’s short novel set in France during WWII is in one way an ordinary war adventure, showing the courage so many displayed while fighting the enemy and hoping to survive.

But the hero here is Mohinder Singh, a Sikh pilot with the RAF, who crash-lands his plane somewhere in occupied France. He is found by 13-year-old Joelle, who with her parents feed and shelter people who need help, be they members of the Resistance or as in this case, a foreign soldier.

This is what’s important. You learn, if you didn’t already know, that Indians fought for Britain in the war, flying from England. And you discover that the hero of a story like this can be a Sikh pilot, which will feel good for not just young Sikhs, but for anyone who might believe that the British don’t take ‘immigrants’ seriously, and who don’t know that many of them died for what was someone else’s country.

Mo is as brave as any RAF hero, and he brings with him his Sikh values, which he teaches to Joelle, as they run from the Germans.

The book begins with Mohinder’s funeral, at the grand old age of 105, and Joelle is there too. This helps, because at least you know that the two of them survived the war. The bad things they encountered were bad enough, and you don’t want to worry about whether they will make it.

I could do with more stories like this one. We might know that all sorts of people fought in the war, while not really understanding, unless it’s spelled out to us.

Persepolis

There was obviously a hidden agenda when I gave the Resident IT Consultant three graphic autobiographies for Christmas. I wanted to read them myself.

I loved George Takei, as I said.

Then I went for Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I’d seen the film years ago and really enjoyed it. But I have to admit to having struggled to like the book. I am currently ‘resting’ between book one and book two.

This is about a period in Iranian history that I have lived through, and I read about it in the papers at the time. I felt I understood it reasonably, but Persepolis has me confused. I don’t know what side the girl’s parents are on. Neither does she. Or she doesn’t even know there are sides. I think.

After much confusion on both our parts, the Shah is gone and she has at least one dead uncle and most of her peers have escaped abroad. Her well-off parents are getting worried, and are sending her to Austria. That’s as far as I got.

I can see they are upset, and that the girl is confused and worried. And I remember feeling worked up on her behalf when she was in Vienna in the film. She looked so alone.

I’m not sure I will return to the book. We shall see.

They Called Us Enemy

Not being a trekkie I didn’t know who George Takei was when his interesting snippets turned up on social media. I simply liked them.

Now I have read his graphic, well, I suppose, autobiography, from WWII onwards, about the interning – imprisonment – of American citizens of Japanese background after Pearl Harbour. It is a great book about this atrocious and shameful history. (The only thing I knew about this before came from watching the film I’ll Remember April some years ago.)

George was four when his family were more or less removed from their beds in Los Angeles in the middle of the night, and taken on a long journey to Arkansas at the other end of the country, where they were to stay for most of the war.

I have deep admiration for George’s father, who worked hard, kept the peace and made himself useful to his fellow ‘prisoners’ for the duration of this wrongful treatment. His behaviour also meant that this whole period seemed like an adventure to George, and possibly as almost normal to his two younger siblings.

Through George’s later fame, some of this unfair treatment has reached more people than might otherwise have been possible.

And I was reminded of what I read on Normblog some years ago; something which made me want to cry again. But mostly good crying. In a world of many really very bad people, and leaders, there are good ones too.

(Almost as an afterthought, I have to comment on how easy it was to read this graphic novel. They aren’t always, but this one worked perfectly.)

Clap When You Land

Cheating fathers is not an uncommon occurrence, although discovering that your beloved dad had another family, and another daughter, the same age as you, can be tough. Especially if your dad has to die for this to become apparent. That way you have just about lost him twice.

Clap when you land is the book Elizabeth Acevedo talked about last year in Edinburgh. It’s another poetic novel, set in New York and the Dominican Republic. Yahaira and Camino are at the relay changeover for the summer; i.e. early June when their dad leaves New York after nine months and goes to DR for the three months of summer. Except this time he dies in a plane crash just outside New York.

The girls take turns describing the news and how they feel and what their families and friends do, and while they both sense there is something else not quite right, it takes time for the secret to get out there. And as with all secrets, the question is how many people know about this?

Yahaira is an ace at chess. The way you play chess matches the way her father went from one square to the next; where it’s impossible to be in two squares at the same time.

Camino helps her healer aunt in their poor neighbourhood in DR, and dreams of studying in the US and becoming a doctor.

Both girls have been, or are, victims of men much older than themselves. Both keep all the bad stuff in, not telling anyone.

But there is much to be said for women power, and when Camino’s aunt gets her machete out, well…

New York and the Dominican Republic have good sides and bad sides to them. It’s not only the gloss of the big city, but there is plenty that’s good in the simple life as well. It’s easy to see why Señor Rios wanted to have his cake and eat it. Until he couldn’t.

This is a powerful story, told in few words, and it just sweeps you up.

The Black Flamingo

‘Phoebe is not
the Barbie I wanted
but she’s the Barbie I’ve got,
and I decide to take care of her.’

These lines from somewhere near the beginning of Dean Atta’s poetic debut, The Black Flamingo, are almost heartbreaking in their simplicity. Young Michael’s mother no doubt meant well, first getting her six-year-old a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, when he wants a Barbie, and later on, for Christmas, a Barbie, but not ‘the Goddess’ Barbie.*

This is a quick read, and you race through the story of Michael from birth to his first year at uni. Black – and non-present – father and Greek Cypriot mother, he never feels he quite belongs. The same goes with school, where he’s not sure what it is he needs. But he does strike gold with his friend Daisy.

Michael comes out as gay, which along with being black isn’t easy. At uni when he believes he’ll finally find his place, it takes a lot of searching before he finds it, as a drag artist.

While he encounters antagonistic people along the way, what is most interesting is how wrong kind and well-meaning people can be. It shows how hard it is to get things right for someone else. His Greek grandfather gets him, though. He is the one who tells him that the pink flamingoes don’t see the colour when the black flamingoes come.

So that’s what Michael becomes; a black flamingo.

*I got a Skipper. I really wanted a Barbie. And not the one with red hair, either.

Killing the teacher

Benjamin Zephaniah’s Teacher’s Dead is a book well worth revisiting. More than a dozen years old, I’d say none of the problems have gone away. Black people have it as bad as ever, their rights eroded rather than having got a bit better. It was a YA novel I really wanted to read back then, and I was not disappointed, except for how life ends up for too many people.

With hindsight, I find my own review of the book quite lacking, although I seem to recall Benjamin was terribly polite about it. He didn’t do email, so actually spent time and money on sending me a proper card.

Now, I have looked for a better description of the story than mine, and I hope Bookbag won’t hate me for this. It’s so good, and the screen grab below is simply to motivate you to follow the link.

It’s more recent than mine, which just goes to show that this story will move the reader at any time.

A Poison Tree

Beware what goes on in charity shops.

I had no idea that used, donated shoes could lead to so much trouble, but I happen to know that Jon Mayhew is someone who knows about these things. Hence the major role played by an ‘innocent’ Wirral charity shop in A Poison Tree, the new adult crime novel by J E Mayhew as he calls himself here.

Jon – J E – is another children’s author who’s switched to killing for adults, on Kindle. (Once I’d read J D Kirk’s ebook, I just happened to buy J E’s as well. Only to check it out and see who’s best and all that.)

The opening scene is great, and the charity shop setting provides a fresh change from all the waterlogged corpses I have encountered recently. In fact, the old shoe boxes with shoes in them (‘What else?’ I hear you say), has a rather menacing quality to them.

DCI Blake is a good detective, not so keen on poetry, and even less keen on cats. His cat, at least, or his mother’s cat. We don’t know what happened to the mother, but Serafina the cat is vicious. Quite a few dead bodies in the Wirral, and plenty of secrets. Just about everyone Blake talks to seems fishy.

Blake has a good team, and they eventually work out who did it. And, you know, proceed with caution when you get to the charity shop. Don’t buy the red Converse boots, whatever you do!