Category Archives: Review

Pocket Pirates – The Great Cheese Robbery

I like cheese too. Just like Chris Mould’s ‘tiny pirates on big adventures’ do, as do their adversaries the mice.

These pirates live on one of those ships you might come across in a bottle (not you in the bottle; the pirates and their ship), which stands on a mantelpiece in a junk shop, somewhere. Their lives are not easy. There are many dangers, apart from the mice.

Chris Mould, The Great Cheese Robbery

In The Great Cheese Robbery the pirates find their cat has been kidnapped and to free him it is necessary to travel to the place where it is always winter; the place called Fridge.

As I said mice aren’t the only pirate predators. There are spiders. Spiders are quite big when you are small. The junkshop dog is much much bigger, and also fairly hungry and vicious. I leave it to you to work out how hard it was for the pirates to get their cat back.

The ransom demand was for cheese, and to get at the cheese you first have to open the fridge door.

Great – well, a small great – book for little readers, albeit possibly not as little as the pirates.

One For Sorrow

The third and last time travel adventure from Philip Caveney is probably the best. In One For Sorrow I felt that both Philip and his hero Tom, as well as the reader, have finally got the hang of this time travelling thing. It’s one of the most convenient ways of adding a little something to a plot. You can go forwards and backwards, and possibly even over the Irish Sea…

Philip Caveney, One For Sorrow

As the Resident IT Consultant pointed out when he tackled the book, surely Tom should know better than to get on that train from Manchester to Edinburgh. Things always happen. But if he didn’t, then we’d be none the wiser about Plague Doctors, infamous murderers or, in this latest case, how Robert Louis Stevenson went about writing Treasure Island.

And there is that priceless humour that comes from joking about everything Mancunian. They certainly do do things differently there.

Last time Tom had to leave Catriona – the love of his life – behind in 1829. Now it’s 1881 and she is still alive. What can a 14-year-old boy from Manchester do? Other than influence Stevenson in his career?

The Plague Doctor is still around, still ruining Tom’s life. But other than him, and Stevenson’s pesky stepson, 1881 is a sunnier place to visit than either of the two earlier trips. No plague, no murderers, ‘just’ a lost love and some literary advice.

And quite a lot of fun.

Puppy Academy – Scout and the Sausage Thief

They know who the sausage thief is. Frank Furter. It’s just a case of catching him, and preferably before the village sausage festival in Little Barking has to be cancelled.

Gill Lewis, Scout and the Sausage Thief

Here, with Puppy Academy, Gill Lewis is back with clever doggy students who want nothing better than to be good working dogs. Scout, the German shepherd puppy, wants to be a police dog like her mum and dad.

As you will have worked out, this is not a real school where dogs are trained to be police dogs. This is more a world of dogs who talk, go to school and have jobs, while being pretty much the same as you and me. (Within reason.)

This is a nice little adventure, where poor Scout is working hard at being good, but having setbacks and needing to work even harder at putting things right. Catching Frank Furter is one thing, but who stole the Crunchie Munchies?

A little wolfie gift for you all

Cliff McNish is a very kind man. He has written a lovely fairy tale called The Winter Wolf, and he persuaded his friend Trish Phillips to make him some rather nice illustrations to go with it, and then his brother Michael did some, well, stuff, and here it is, for everyone to download and enjoy.

Cliff McNish, The Winter Wolf

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale about the wolf that howls every winter, scaring the other animals in the wood. They all warn their children against him, saying you can’t trust a wolf. It’s just a trick. But there is – naturally – a tiny squirrel, who wants to find out more, and who goes where he wasn’t allowed to go. He speaks to the wolf, and he wants to believe him. He makes sure he’s out of reach, and…

Cliff McNish, The Winter Wolf

Well, when I got this far I didn’t know whether to believe the best or the worst. I was interrupted twice, and nearly shouted at those who dared disturb me at such a critical moment.

According to Daughter you can’t possibly have a wolf eating a squirrel in a book for children.

You can’t?

Precious and the Zebra Necklace

I used to love sitting down with the latest novel about Mma Ramotswe. To begin with I kept up with each new book as it came, but when Bookwitch got going, a few pleasures fell by the roadside, and my crime sprees in Botswana were among them. I still drink my redbush tea, though.

Alexander McCall Smith, Precious and the Zebra Necklace

So I was happy to reacquaint myself with Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s shorter books about our favourite detective as a child. She was just as sweet then, as the woman she became.

In Precious and the Zebra Necklace, she makes a new friend at school, and when she discovers this girl has a sad mystery in her past, Precious sets out to solve it.

Like the adult ‘crimes’ this is more about human nature and simplicity and ordinary things going wrong. A bit of thinking about things, and talking to people gets you a long way.

Short and sweet.

The Smile

Don’t you just hate babies? I mean, younger siblings. They get all the attention and they are allowed to make noise and keep you awake all night.

Michelle Magorian’s The Smile (a Little Gem) with lovely pictures by Sam Usher is about a young boy called Josh. He has a new baby brother called Charlie, and as if it’s not enough to have your mum stolen away by this noisy newcomer, he’s also had to move house, and his new room has pink and yellow wallpaper which is so bright you need sunglasses to cope.

And here is poor Josh, all alone in his floral jail, while Charlie has the attention of both parents and gets to sleep in their room. His mum even seemed to like the idea that Charlie was going to be with them for years and years.

But being a mum she knows what to do. She cunningly makes sure Josh is in a position where he has to get to know this little pest better.

Or maybe she really did need a shower.

This is a sweet new-baby-rivalry story for the slightly older than the traditional picture book reader.

Brush Back

You have to admire the ageing gymnastics Sara Paretsky does to keep some of her characters younger than they possibly can be, while others move a little faster through life, and letting V I Warshawski’s darling dogs stay as they are.

Sara Paretsky, Brush Back

Brush Back is the story Sara wrote because she wanted to place a crime under Wrigley Field, and in the end she had to hurry as they started a major overhaul of the Cubs’ home ground. She also had to make things up, as they never replied to her emails asking to come and have a look around.

Just as well, since this way Sara could do what she liked, and what she likes is always tough on V I, but eventually ends OK for most of them. I could see two people as being in the danger zone – apart from V I herself, of course – and knew one of them would ultimately be OK, but worried that the other one wouldn’t be.

V I’s dead cousin Boom-Boom is back, so to speak. A childhood friend of his – and V I’s some time boyfriend – Frank comes asking for help when his mother is released from jail for having killed her daughter thirty years earlier. It’s not totally obvious to V I what Frank wants her to do, but being V I she starts digging anyway, and soon unearths lots of shady dealings and people who suddenly want to harm her.

She has a new young and spirited protegé from Canada living with her, which is good for Mr Contreras. V I upsets old boyfriend Conrad Rawlings again, although I’d say he’s mellowing a little. Plenty of baseball, icehockey and lawbreaking – and not all of it by V I – feature in Brush Back. Plus a small cameo by NCIS. (Keep them coming!)

It’s good to be back in Chicago, and it’s good to be back with old friends. Sara knows how to grab her readers.