Category Archives: Review

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I was filled with a nice warm glow reading the new Harry Potter stage play, enjoying myself a lot and just letting myself feel good about returning to a place I used to love.

And I think that’s OK. Others can have other views, and we’d all be right, in our own way. I believe we had been told there’d be no more Harry, but I see no reason why a person can’t change their mind. Also, this is not the same as another novel; it is merely revisiting people and places we know from before.

I am generally a sucker for finding out ‘what happened after’ and this is a good example. Not everything in the lives of Harry and his friends is perfect, but we see what they’re up to now, and how relationships have continued and developed, and we meet the next generation.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Young Albus Severus Potter is a complicated boy, but he is his own person. He’s not a copy of his dad. And he shows us that you can find friends in the most unexpected quarters.

It’d be interesting to see how this works out on the stage, but I have no idea if I’ll be up to sitting for so many hours, should I get hold of tickets at some point in the far future. I might hold out for the film.

And I’m guessing we can’t have more after this. That really would be taking it too far. Or would it?

(And another thing; this teaches millions of fans that you can read drama. That there are other kinds of texts apart from novels.)

Across the Barricades

As I said, I could barely wait to read Joan Lingard’s Across the Barricades after The Twelfth Day of July. It has the pleasure of re-connecting with old friends, but it has stopped feeling even a little bit cosy. Three years on, Kevin is 17 and Sadie is 16 – which back then seems to have almost counted as being adult – when they unexpectedly meet up again.

Joan Lingard, Across the Barricades

Things are much worse in Belfast; barbed wire everywhere and disturbances and violence have become daily occurences and seemingly normal, even to peaceful and ‘normal’ people. Childhood friendships are falling apart, when people find themselves on opposite sides, and I don’t mean religious ones, but whether or not they want to live peacefully or if they prefer to go on the attack against people who’ve not done anything to them.

As we can see today too, prejudice is rife and you hate on principle. This makes it harder for our young couple, who find that they very much want to keep seeing each other, while also realising that the other one will be much safer if they can stay away.

What a choice!

Just as it is upsetting to see how blinkered some people were (are), it is reassuring to find the odd ones who can see both sides of the coin and who are normal and decent human beings.

Even as their situation darkens, you want to read on and on. And knowing that this is anchored in recent history, you know that not everything can be fine, just like that. People will die, and they will be injured. Others will be upset, because separation of some sort is unavoidable.

I just want more.

Beck

Beck is a beautiful story, with a sad but beautiful background. Written mostly by Mal Peet, but finished by his dear friend Meg Rosoff after Mal’s far too early death in 2015, it is a collaboration between two of the best writers for Young Adults. I’ve heard of other writers who agree with a colleague and friend that if the worst should happen, the friend will finish their book for them. We don’t want this to happen, but if it does, it’s far better for a ‘chosen one’ to take over.

Set primarily in the 1920s, Beck is the result of a brief encounter between a poor Liverpool woman and a black sailor. Mal kills off his whole family in a sentence or two, and then our orphan is truly on his own, before he is shipped off to Canada at 14. Received there by the Catholic Brothers, the modern reader can’t help wondering if they will be good Brothers or wicked ones.

Mal Peet, and Meg Rosoff, Beck

Eventually most of the orphans are sent on to work on farms, and it’s not exactly Green Gables. Beck ends up in one place after another; not all bad, but he definitely doesn’t have an easy life.

I was wondering if I’d be able to tell where the join is, but reading part four you can tell a woman has taken over the story. It’s not necessarily easier for Beck, but it’s hard in a different way. A softer hard, so to speak.

This is a wonderful story about a young man battling adversity, and it offers a window on a Canada of almost a hundred years ago. It’s not the Depression, as it says in the blurb, but you can’t help thinking about what will happen to the people you have come to love, when the Depression does arrive.

It’s not easy deciding whether an interrupted book should be continued by another writer, but I often think of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, and how I wondered what was meant to happen, and whether I should make up my own [happy] ending, or not. And if I’d get it right.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to read all of Beck.

Get Coding!

‘That’s quite advanced!’ said the Resident IT Consultant, pointing at my ‘picture book’ shelf. By that I mean picture sized books, more than that they are for toddlers. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if toddlers will ‘get’ coding quicker than me, because I don’t really get it.

To be honest, I didn’t know if young people needed to be taught coding through books, or if they are born knowing this kind of thing these days.

The Resident IT Consultant did stuff like that at university, and possibly before, when he would have been a normal school geek. I don’t know. At the time I was so far removed from computers that I knew nothing.

Now I know a little, by which I mean I gather that Daughter codes her work. It must mean she is very clever, because I don’t get it. Apparently Python is good, but I’d rather not think about it.

Get Coding!

In this book, Get Coding!, readers learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and they are instructed on how to build websites and apps and games. I still find it hard to grasp what an app actually is, but I do get close up with a little HTML when I insert pictures into my blog posts, but that’s quite enough for me. I don’t understand that either.

This review is the kind I normally frown on, as I’ve not really read the book. There would be no point. Not because it’s not good. I’m sure it’s excellent, which is why I’m sitting here pretending I know about some computery things. But because I wouldn’t get it. If I was twenty years younger, I just might sit down and see if it would get me somewhere interesting, but I’ll stick with my old-fashioned skills of baking and talking to houseplants.

I like the pictures.

Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World

Rather like Mariana, the young girl in Laurence Anholt’s new book about Frida Kahlo, I have been a little scared of Frida. She seems so different, and intimidating. She’s not, of course, and now both I and Mariana know this.

As in Laurence’s other books about famous artists, Mariana is a real child from Frida’s real life. Her father was a wealthy art collector, and Frida painted portraits of everyone in his family, and Mariana was the last to sit for Frida.

Laurence Anholt, Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World

During the time it took for her portrait to be painted, Mariana learned about Frida’s life, including the accident that almost killed her, and why Frida always wore long skirts, and about her husband Diego Rivera. By the end of the painting the two were firm friends. Not even the skeleton above Frida’s bed scared her any more.

I love these artist’s life books! I actually have a whole pile here at the moment, because I’ve been hoarding them. Frida Kahlo is new, but the ones about Matisse, Degas and Cézanne have recently been reissued and they are so enjoyable.

Laurence Anholt, Matisse: King of Colour

Matisse might have been my favourite. Except I really loved Degas. And Cézanne was touching. So I don’t know. Either all these artists were really special and lovely people, or Laurence knows how to make them appear so. I especially admire the way he uses children and young people close to the artists to show what they were like as human beings, and not just the way we view these famous painters now. Life wasn’t always a bed of roses back when the painting was happening.

I do like Matisse’s chapel!

The Great Big Body Book

One phrase in The Great Big Body Book really jumped out at me; ‘we are more alike than different.’ Those are the kind of words we need to come across more often, the way things are.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Body Book

The Great Big Body Book is the latest in a row of Great books by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, who do a Great job of putting fun and interesting facts together and then providing pictures to help us see better. The body is so simple, in a way. You have the outside, the inside and the skeleton. Interesting bits can be found in all three.

And did you know your dentist was once a baby? (Mine is still about 22, so that wasn’t such a long time ago.) I’m glad only 8% of people have blue eyes, having grown up in a place where being a brown-eyed beauty felt all wrong and boring.

And don’t get me started on colours! I bought a purple and orange (girl’s) t-shirt for the toddler Son, and had Daughter’s credentials as a girl queried by someone who felt her neutral coloured coat was wrong. Had there not been a few navy blue flowers to rescue her, she’d probably still be a boy.

It’s normal for teens to spend hours looking in the mirror, but no, that fat man is not pregnant. Older people are not necessarily useless, and we will remember our dear ones who have died.

At the back there is an illustration of Mary and Ros. I didn’t know Ros is tall and thin. I know Mary is short, but she is definitely not round. But whatever their shapes, they have yet again made a rather lovely book.

When lingerie goes sproing

So you have your regular, old-fashioned little shop that’s you’ve been going to for years, for your corsets and long-johns or whatever. You get good service, they know you in the shop and the goods are dependable. That’s why you shop there.

Then, one day the shop assistant – who knows you well – suggests something new and different and persuades you to buy it. And then your corset – because it probably was a corset, with springy bits and everything – goes all sproing on you, and it’s not comfortable at all.

Do you complain, or do you shop elsewhere in future?

If you’re the shop assistant, what were you thinking, offering a new, un-tested corset, that even you thought looked a bit dodgy when it arrived? Is it better to flog it to your loyal customer and risk losing their continued custom, or do you ignore this product because you know it’s not for your customers, and you’d rather keep your good reputation?

There is no right or wrong here, only a decision to make, which will have an impact on your future relationship with customers.

Now, I hope you are not wondering how I can be so old-style as to still wear corsets, even if my wobbly bits could do with some manner of control, but you will know I’m talking about something else: books, publicists and reading for review.

I’ll be honest with you. If a book is persuasively offered to me by someone I’ve known for a long time, and whom I like and trust, I am much more likely to give that book a go than if it comes from the big publishing firm’s newest recruit. If they know I’m not a fan of Arthurian novels, they can still offer, and I can say no. But if I base my temporary willingness to read an Arthur story on my relationship with the publicist, I’d like to know I’m being offered an exceptional Arthur.

It needn’t be to my liking. But I’d prefer it not to be of relatively poor self-published quality, and I’d like not having to do the detective work myself to ascertain what kind of ‘publisher’ has been involved. Because the thing is, anyone can hire the services of a publicist, and if they are good they can put together an excellent and fully professional looking press release.

I suppose I’d like a hint, at least, that the book isn’t quite as professional as some. But if there is a hint like that, they are not doing what someone has paid them to do.

It remains to be seen how I deal with the next incoming ‘corset.’