Category Archives: Review

One Last Second Chance

A bit rough round the edges, but I enjoyed it. At the event with William McIntyre last month, my ears started flapping when I sensed I could hear something about a [self-published] children’s book he’d written. I had to email him to ask more.

He replied it’s the kind of book he’d have liked when he was young. I feel it’s the kind of book I like even when I’m not, but would have, back then, if he could have time-travelled so it existed in the stone age, as well.

William McIntyre, One Last Second Chance

One Last Second Chance is about Walter, a conman who taught me more about cons than I ever knew I needed to know. There is Gordon –  a young boy – whose mother is dying, and for whom Gordon wants to find a cure. And there is his new, violent, neighbour, a student called Marie.

Unlikely though this trio seems, they set out to find this cure. Or hang onto it, in case it’s already theirs. But there are worse crooks than Walter; crooks who all seem to be after them.

This madcap adventure would be really fun as a film, but I would love for the two nurses  to have their roles reversed. (Honestly, such a cliché this way round!)

I really don’t want to give too much away. It’d ruin the book for you. Whereas you kind of expect Gordon’s mother to be saved, you can’t really work out how this might happen. If it does. There are some fun characters and plenty of crazy ideas. And it’s all quite Scottish. All it needs is a haggis.

Hang on, there was a haggis.

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The Legend of Sally Jones

This is all about where you belong. It needn’t be the place you were born, although you will probably always miss it, while still being happy – or not – somewhere else.

Serendipity – and Pushkin Press – brought me Sally Jones, the ‘prequel’ to Jakob Wegelius’ The Murderer’s Ape. It’s not, really. But for those of us who came to Sally Jones in her second book, it will feel like a prequel. For the English language market it is a new book, just published, translated by Peter Graves. The Swedes had the original ten years ago, awarding it prizes.

Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones

Jakob Wegelius did all the illustrations for his recent novel, but here he has really excelled. The Legend of Sally Jones is picture book; each page a work of art. Especially the back cover is gorgeous. And the story is lovely and really tugs at your heartstrings. Now we know what made Sally Jones who she is, and why she is so loyal to her friend the Chief.

Because all through The Murderer’s Ape you have to take it on trust that he deserves all the love Sally Jones shows as she searches for a way to prove he’s no murderer. When you’ve read The Legend of Sally Jones you know.

Sally Jones met some quite bad people when she grew up, but also a few lovely ones. Even her worst humans proved useful as they taught her some of the many skills she later on puts to good use. If you want your gorilla to be your slave, don’t teach them to drive.

Glass Town Wars

How I had waited for the new novel by Celia Rees! It had been far too long. But as they say, good books come to Witches who wait.

Glass Town Wars is an interesting blend of Emily Brontë’s childhood made-up world, and gaming today. Plus a few other ideas. It’s sort of Truth or Dare meets Haworth.

It’s not explained to you. The reader has to work out what’s going on, between the young – seemingly unconscious – man in the modern hospital bed, and the girl in Yorkshire who dreams her fantasy world, and her alter ego in that other world. And then they all meet.

Celia Rees, Glass Town Wars

This is good stuff, and being left in the dark adds to the experience. I’m woefully uneducated in the Brontë ways – outside of their books –  so am guessing I’d have known more, had I known more, so to speak.

It’s about love, and lust, and fighting; whether in imaginary wars two hundred years ago, or in an intensive care unit right here and now. And I couldn’t very well ignore the fact that the lovely nurse who looks after Tom – our unconscious hero – is an immigrant. Where would we have been without him?

2018 is the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth, and Glass Town Wars is a fabulous way to celebrate; to bring her and her siblings back to life – if they need it – and maybe introduce a new generation to their books, while keeping readers entertained with our own ideas of cyberspace. This is something Celia does well.

The ones that disappeared

Unlike the Rohingya refugees that you can at least see, however awful their reality, there are others whose fates are not worse, maybe, but they are invisible. Or so it seems.

Zana Fraillon has written a story about three children, presumably sold into slavery by their [unaware] families. Or they were simply picked up from a problematic situation after some disaster or other.

I’d have liked knowing where Zana’s The ones that disappeared is set. But perhaps it makes no difference. This kind of thing exists in many places, and this way no one is excluded.

Zana Fraillon, The ones that disappeared

The children manage to escape, but that only sets in motion new problems. They are illegals, and they are frightened, not to mention hungry and cold and tired, and they don’t know who to trust. When one of them is split from the others, they meet another child; not a slave, but a boy with concerns of his own.

The reader follows the children as they try to make the best of a bad situation. This is a children’s book and you’d want, even expect, a solution to the dire circumstances they are in. But how realistic would that be? And we know that life is rarely perfect.

Will the injured child die? Will any of the others? There would appear to be no responsible adults anywhere, and children need those if things are to normalise.

It’s inspiring, not to mention astounding, to see how capable such young children are. Can be. Have to be. And then you realise how impossible the situation is. There are slaves like them everywhere, controlled by bad adults who lie to them.

While the rest of us don’t see them, even when they are right there under our noses.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

It is rather sweet. Even people who know nothing about Christmas, can get it right, completely by accident. In this case the people are the Moomin family. They hibernate, so tend not to be awake or aware of Christmas, unlike their friends and neighbours. But this time the Hemulen comes and wakes them up, because he’s fed up with all the preparations for Christmas.

Aren’t we all?

But knowing nothing, the poor Moomins are alarmed at first, worrying about this unknown monster coming for them. It needs a tree. The tree needs to be dressed. It needs food. And on top of that it requires presents.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

Were it not for a tiny, shy creature drawn to their house by the kindness of Moominmamma, they’d know very little. With its help, they find pretty things to put on the tree, and they wrap presents, and Moominmamma gets busy in the kitchen.

After all that they do the most sensible thing of all and go back to bed.


I seem to know the story from a long time ago. However, it has been ‘adapted from the Tove Jansson classic,’ with words by Alex Haridi and Cecilia Davidsson – translated by A A Prime – and illustrations by Filippa Widlund. So I’m not sure what it is I remember.

But it is a lovely story, with pretty pictures, and who needs a star at the top of the tree when you can have a rose?

Notes On My Family

I occasionally wonder how many books you can want to read about ‘normal’ life in a family, as seen through the eyes of someone on the autism spectrum. Will it feel too same-y? Well, I suppose it’s no different from the endless friendship stories set in schools and in the family home, spiced up with a bit of romance. They, too, are ‘all the same’ and readers still enjoy them and seek them out.

Emily Critchley, Notes On My Family

Emily Critchley’s Notes On My Family is about another slightly dysfunctional family, by which I probably mean totally normal. Except Louise sees things in a different way. And she deserves a more clued-up family. Couldn’t she at least have one parent who sees her for what she is, and who is on her side? As it is, Louise gets the weirdo treatment at school, where the other girls invite her outside to beat her up.

This doesn’t improve when her father, who is the PE teacher at school, has an affair with a sixth-form girl. But no one discovers what kind of life Louise leads, because she never complains. She merely notes down what happens as though it’s all normal and to be expected.

Her mother goes somewhat bonkers over the affair, her sister dresses up for when the fire brigade is called, and her brother hides with his own problems.

Luckily, Louise has a better set of imaginary parents, and in that life she also has a dog, and is home-schooled.

Finally Louise meets another outsider at school, who might just be friendship material. If Louise only knew how to be friends.

I don’t know what the lives of aspie teenagers are like, but I hope that reading Notes On My Family will provide a welcome sense of recognition. We’re not all crazy in the same way, but hopefully it’s possible to laugh at someone else’s mad life.

Dead Stock

First Aid is always a useful skill. Although many of the corpses in Rachel Ward’s Dead Stock are beyond help. I suppose corpses generally are…

I was going to say that unlike most crime novels, Dead Stock doesn’t have any dead humans, but that’d be incorrect. There is one dead body, but you don’t notice it so much. The bad smell comes from other dead creatures. Look away now if you don’t enjoy dead cats.

Rachel Ward, Dead Stock

Ant and Bea are back. It’s only just past New Year, with its hangovers and disappointments. As Costsave gets ready to go in the New Year, however, the missing and/or the dead cats start making themselves noticed. But Bea is ready to solve the mystery, and Ant supposes he will help, then…

It’s always good to meet characters you know, and by now we know where we are with Bea and her mum, Ant with his family, plus the whole Costsave family, for better or for worse. And it’s not only cats, but dogs, in this whodunnit. Bea is run ragged with all the sleuthing and the caring for animals.

She has her old flame, the sleazy policeman to deal with too, as well as the new and very promising part-timer at Costsave.

The question is who is doing those things to the cats? And what does it have to do with all the rest that’s happening in Kingsleigh?

Bea is definitely the one to have on your side. She’s small, but brave. And when not brave, she still does what needs doing. (Except possibly sending her police-man properly packing.)

As usual, it’s not always the ones you think did it, who did it. But for a book about dead cats, it gets really quite exciting.