Category Archives: Review

The Dragonsitter’s Party

‘Never take popcorn from a dragon.’ Obviously. And when you find a babysitter who ‘does pets’ you shouldn’t assume she will do dragons, especially if they get annoyed at having to share the popcorn.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter's Party

We are back with Eddie and his family, and the dragons. Who just happen to turn up for Eddie’s birthday party. Eddie’s mum is still very much in love with Gordon, so she puts up with him having brought the dragons, although, as I said, it’s hard to go out for a romantic dinner when the sitter doesn’t do pets. Or dragons.

They have a magician booked for the party. Who needs a magician when you have an univited dragon or two? The magician arrived with a trained rabbit, but it’s safe to say he didn’t manage to leave with it. The guests thought it was the best party ever.

Eddie’s ever absent Uncle Morton is helping with the lambs (since Gordon is busy wooing Eddie’s mum), and fails to turn up to relieve them of his dragons, yet again.

I love these books, and I have high hopes for the future, considering what Uncle Morton gave Eddie.

An egg. And I don’t think it was an Easter egg.

(Wonderful illustrations by Garry Parsons as always.)

Urban Legends

It’s not so much the ease with which Helen Grant kills in Urban Legends that scares me. It’s more how she scares me while she scares me. As it says on the cover of the book, ‘no one is safe.’ You’d better believe it.

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

I read slowly to begin with, because I was that scared. Really. What’s worst with this kind of plot* is when no one knows anything, when no one suspects or realises they need to look out. So, once Kris and Veerle are aware that De Jager – The Hunter – is once again after them and that he’d quite like to kill them, and probably slowly and painfully, you can half relax as they at least know what they are up against.

I say relax, but I don’t mean that. Readers have been forced to sleep with the lights on. Because Veerle and Kris understand De Jager, and will recognise him if they see him (apart from the fact they thought he’d died, twice). But all those others, who walk like lambs to slaughter, or who maybe suspect they’ve made a mistake but can’t do anything to escape? Yes, them.

The first two brilliant books in the trilogy were ‘merely’ about setting up this final (?) one. You see the point of every detail from those books when you get to Urban Legends. And you rather wish you didn’t. The urban legends; they are the tales told by one of the group of people who regularly meet in out-of-the-way places to explore and listen to stories, before someone departs for the afterlife in ways recently described in these ‘legends.’

It would be easy to ask why I read Urban Legends all the way to the end if I was that frightened. The answer is that Helen writes so perfectly, that you just can’t not read. She knows precisely how to play on all your inner fears, and then some. (You do need to get past p 38, however.)

*As if there could be an archetypal plot where Helen is concerned. Read, and shiver. But first close the blinds.

Truckers

Poignantly Terry Pratchett’s Truckers was re-issued on the day he died. But perhaps we should see that as his gift to us; and ‘nothing ate him or ran him over or anything.’

I simply had to read it immediately. It was as if nothing else would do. And I felt so much better for it, reading, instead of doing ‘stuff.’ I mean, I’d read Truckers before, as part of Son’s copy of The Bromeliad, which doesn’t live with me any more. But that was a long time ago, well before I knew very much about this Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett and Mark Beech, Truckers

One of my all time favourite quotes comes from Truckers, ‘Road Works Ahead.’ I’d forgotten many of the others, but if I had the talent of remembering lines, I’d walk round quoting Truckers at everyone I meet. (Count your blessings, people.)

Masklin is a true Pratchett hero. He may be a nome, but he is a leader and a great and brave man. He had to be, as Outside the Store there was only him, not counting old people and women. And Grimma is a marvel of female role model, especially for male readers. Careful what you say or your brain might explode a little.

Truckers is a book full of wisdom, and also of commercial clichés and funny misunderstandings. When Masklin and his very small band of Outside nomes are forced to abandon their Outside home they end up in the Store – Arnold Bros (est 1905) – where after some rest and respite, they and the Store nomes discover that Everything Must Go.

And go they do, in the most spectacular manner, stealing one of the Store’s lorries, the driving of which is only slightly awkward when you are four inches tall.

If I could be Granny Morkie, please?

(Illustrations by Mark Beech)

Devil You Know

Phew! What a story. My first proper Cathy MacPhail novel, and I have to say that Devil You Know has more twists than even I had imagined. I’ve always been a little scared of what Cathy might do in a book. It’s the way she looks at you and you think ‘I daren’t find out!’ and then you chicken out.

Cathy MacPhail, Devil You Know

This is the story about Logan who has just moved to a Glasgow estate, to get away from some un-named unpleasantness in his home town Aberdeen. He’s got this new friend called Baz, who is everything you as a parent would not look for in a friend for your child. But of course, Logan’s mum and stepdad ‘don’t understand’ him.

Baz’s three friends don’t seem to like Logan much, but put up with him. In fact, they don’t seem to like Baz much, either. He always leads them into trouble, and he always laughs it off, and shrugs off any responsibility for anything that has happened.

And things do happen. It goes from bad to worse and soon the boys are desperately scared of the consequences of what they’ve been a party to. All except Baz. This is more serious than youthful gangs and fights. They are up against the real deal here. And were it not for Baz, they might have done the decent, and sensible, thing, and been all right.

This book is exactly what should get young teenagers reading. You can’t fault the way Cathy knows what their lives are like, or might be like. (That’s probably why she scares me so.)

I could guess most of what would happen, apart from that final twist which I really didn’t see coming.

Will you?

Yellow, more yellow and black

The 2015 Carnegie medal shortlist is mostly yellow [book covers] and black. I trust that this is a coincidence, although fashion in cover design might be involved here. I’ve not checked to see what the books that didn’t make it have on their covers. Possibly more yellow.

Out of the eight, I’ve read three and they’re all potential worthy winners. Sally Gardner and Patrick Ness have won before. Some of the ones I’ve not read I have wanted to read, but they didn’t turn up in the post and it’s the usual problem of lack of time to chase, and sometimes lack of information that the book exists in the first place. Which is the case with the ones I’ve not read because I’d not heard of them.

If publishers do put together lists of what they intend to publish, it would cost them very little to email that list to ‘everyone.’ I keep hearing how overworked publicity departments are, and I realise that writing press releases and [personalised] letters and printing and posting them takes more time and will cost money. But you surely can’t run a company without listing what products you are about to offer the general public to buy, and if you have the list, please share it.

There have been other shortlists and longlists over the last few months. It is getting increasingly hard to keep up with the titles, let alone read them. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing for me not to have read as high a proportion of the chosen ones as I used to. I still read as many books, and that might mean I read and review ones that don’t even get close to the limelight of an award.

On the Carnegie longlist there are five books I would have liked to see make it, and several more ‘glaring omissions’ on the nominations list. As for the shortlist, I’d have liked to read Geraldine McCaughrean’s book and Elizabeth Laird’s, but as it is, I will root for Tanya Landman’s Buffalo Soldier.

The Nowhere Emporium

The blurb on the back of Ross MacKenzie’s The Nowhere Emporium – and what a gorgeous cover this book has! – suggests it’s for fans of Pullman, Funke and Gaiman. I think it’s more Harry Potter than any of those, though I obviously won’t rule out that others will also enjoy The Nowhere Emporium. Simplified Harry Potter, I hasten to add, but you can tell that Ross has been influenced by JK, as she in turn had been influenced by a few others.

Ross MacKenzie, The Nowhere Emporium

This Tardis-like emporium is nowhere, in that it moves about. It changes where it is, and also when it is. Daniel Holmes is an orphan, and his life could be better. One day when chased yet again by some bullies, he finds a shop to escape into, which is where he encounters the mysterious Mr Silver who runs it.

He goes back a second time, and Mr Silver is rather surprised to find Daniel can remember his first visit. You’re not supposed to. His emporium is intended to entertain people, but he also makes sure he arranges for some suitable memory loss as they leave.

Daniel is clearly different, so Mr Silver lets him stay, just as when he was a young boy, he had a mysterious ‘benefactor’ who took him in and taught him magic. This was a very long time ago.

Soon after Daniel is apprenticed, things begin to change. Mr Silver seems different and then he disappears. Another mysterious man turns up instead and it’s for Daniel to try and sort things out and make emporium life normal again. If he’s got enough magic in him to do so.

Well, what do you think?

The Great Big Book of Families

It’s Mother’s Day, but it’s a bit of a nonsense, really. Let’s make it Families’ Day instead and talk about The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. Much more fun, and no need for bath salts, or dinner out in an overcrowded restaurant.

As Mary and Ros show us, a family can be anything. All you need are two people who belong together, somehow. They show us many different types of family constellations, and I’m sure there are many more.

My own, and by that I mean the one I was born into, was a two person family. Sometimes I find that any group bigger than that is pretty large. All I needed was Mother-of-witch.

Now that I ‘have the right’ to celebrate Mother’s Day (I don’t, much, though) from the opposite perspective, it feels rather unreal. Somehow I can only see mothers as an older person; not the one I am.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Families

But one thing Mary and Ros (mainly Ros, I suppose, as it’s an illustration) have got right for our family is this lovely picture. That’s me, and – erm – someone close to me. And if the hair wasn’t wrong, it could also be me and Mother-of-witch. The spiders skipped a generation.

To stop being frivolous – although I don’t see what’s wrong with a bit of frivolity – this book is another fantastic collaboration, ready to show young readers that they are normal and everything is fine, and you don’t need to be like those others who might seem to be ‘the real thing.’ (You know, the kind of family the Government have in mind as the only acceptable life form. Which always makes me wonder what’s wrong with single people.)

Happy People’s Day! Please pass the shower gel.

(PS. I was a very good daughter. Obviously. Sometimes. I rose at dawn and went into the woods to pick a bunch of lily of the valley, before serving breakfast in bed and/or homemade dinner and nice, wobbly cake. Not all in bed, or at the same time.)