Category Archives: Review

Shakespeare’s Ghost

‘Oh, a Mary Hoffman,’ said Daughter as she passed my stack of new books. ‘I might read that Mary Hoffman, if I may,’ said the Resident IT Consultant, and carried off Shakespeare’s Ghost. So I had to wait.

Mary Hoffman, Shakespeare's Ghost

It’s not terribly strange that many authors have written something about Shakespeare right now, but I find it amusing how both Mary and Tony Bradman chose The Tempest, as it was being written, to feature in their respective books, down to having Will give their orphan boys the part of Ariel. So, two orphans, two theatre companies (well, the same, really) and two Ariels.

And still, so very different from each other. It just goes to prove what a good author can do; one idea, but more than one story.

I liked getting to know Shakespeare a bit better, and finding out what his experiences regarding faeries might have been. Mary’s orphan, Ned, meets and falls in love with a girl from that other world, and it seems that Will had come across her and her family too, when he was younger.

The trouble with Ned falling in love with someone not entirely human, apart from the obvious things, was that he also had a girl in real London that he was interested in and who was hurt as his attention wandered. At first I wanted Ned to have nothing to do with Faelinn, but after a while I felt that maybe he should, and that Charity would be all right, and after that I didn’t really know what I thought.

Just as well the story looked after those things without me. Or it might have been Mary.

There is the plague to deal with as well, and the royal family. In fact, the royals on both sides of The Boundary have trouble getting on. As does Ned and some of his rival actors who are all after the same big parts. And they depend on Shakespeare to write a new hit or two, while he finds it hard to come up with inspiring ideas.

I know this is all made up. Probably. But it is nice to get closer to historical figures like this, and getting to know them a bit. More personal.

I enjoyed this.

The Boy and the Globe

Did anyone notice that it’s just been the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare? Not that I feel it’s quite proper to celebrate anniversaries of deaths, but still.

There are a lot of books out with some kind of Shakespeare connection. Tony Bradman’s The Boy and the Globe is one of them, and it’s a Barrington Stoke Conkers book. It’s the one I mentioned a few days ago as having given me so much more pleasure than the book I abandoned immediately before it.

What’s so fun is seeing what different authors can do with the same theme. The Boy and the Globe is just one story set in 1611, featuring a young orphan. Toby is forced to take up a life of crime in order to eat, but it’s not something he wants to do. By chance he ends up thieving at the Globe one day, and is discovered, in more ways than one.

The boy is befriended by Shakespeare, who is struggling to write a new play, and inspired by a book Toby has just read, he suggests the plot for Will’s next masterpiece, The Tempest.

Tony Bradman and Tom Morgan-Jones, The Boy and the Globe

He gets to do a bit of acting, too, as Shakespeare writes a part for him, and from then on it’s less crime and more theatre for Toby.

Lots of fun and pretty instructive of life in London at the time, as well as giving a theoretical glimpse into the life of Will. I expect any parent of a child who reads this to be forced to make a trip to the Globe before long. (If they are careless enough to mention it’s a real place.)

Illustrations by Tom Morgan-Jones, and lots of Funne Activities for Boyes & Girls at the back of the book. (We really ought to celebrate dead people a bit more.)

The Girl in the Blue Coat

Set in the Netherlands during WWII, Monica Hesse’s novel is about 18-year-old Hanneke who delivers black market goods around Amsterdam for her boss. It’s not quite resistance work, but it’s not legal or safe. Hanneke learns how to flirt with German soldiers, so they won’t think of what she might be carrying, right under their noses.

That’s until the day one of her customers asks her to find a Jewish teenage girl for her; someone who has gone missing from the hidden room where she was kept. Hanneke is reluctant, but she is good at finding things.

Monica Hesse, The Girl in the Blue Coat

This is interesting, because it shows us the war in yet another place and from a different angle than the usual ones. I didn’t know all that much about the Dutch in the war, except for what you learn from Anne Frank.

You can’t really know what people are like until something happens which proves that some are much better human beings than you’d thought, or occasionally, much worse. It seems that more people were satisfied to be quietly cooperating with the German invaders. I don’t know whether this is true, but Monica has done a lot of research. She knows what food people might have liked, and she’s discovered a lot of Dutch facts. However, to my mind, the book has quite an American feel to it, which is hardly surprising as Monica is American.

The plot is exciting, though, and as always, I should have paid full attention to what gets mentioned, as it all turns out to have been relevant in one way or another. Though I did guess at one of the core secrets early on.

A very enjoyable read, if you can say that about a Holocaust novel. There is a lot of bad, but also much that is good.

The Calling

I enjoyed this book enormously. Philip Caveney’s new novel The Calling is an exciting and hilarious caper across Edinburgh, Philip’s new home city, and Manchester, his soon-to-be former home.

Philip Caveney, The Calling

It’s not often that I can recognise a pub from a short description of its exterior, but I had no trouble identifying the green tiled building that the main character Ed vaguely remembers, which is about the only thing he does recall. He seems to be suffering from amnesia, so has no idea who he is or how he ended up in Edinburgh, with no train ticket and no money. And life’s not made any easier when Ed finds himself awake at night, the only human in a city full of statues who have come to life for 24 hours.

The statues name the 13-year-old Ed, after Edinburgh, and the majority of them want to chop his head off to make sure he stays quiet.

This is fascinating stuff, and after meeting the characters who usually stand so silently all over Edinburgh, I’d quite like to walk round the city and say hello. (This could be a touristy sort of book, seducing young readers into wanting to look at the sights, whilst teaching them history.)

Anyway, some of the more sympathetic statues reckon Ed needs help and who better to assist than Sherlock Holmes? Sherlock is a crafty old – well, actually, fairly recent – statue, who’s got plenty of tricks up his deerstalker, and he and Ed start unravelling the mystery of the Softie who stayed awake.

At the risk of offending old Sir William, pardon, Walter Scott, I’d not heard of Peveril of the Peak as anything other than a Manchester pub. But we live and learn. With the help of James Clerk Maxwell, and a small terrier called Bobby, Ed and Sherlock engage in some sleuthing as well as a spot of portal hopping.

It’s a surprisingly likely story in the end. Except possibly for what goes on in Chorlton, but that’s Chorlton for you. You need to be more circumspect.

Elementary, my dears.

(Fledgling Press are onto something good here, I reckon. This is Philip’s fourth Edinburgh-based book, and I can see how attractive an idea this is, for local readers, as well as for visitors. And the Scotland-Manchester combo is one I find suits me.)

Car Wash Wish

Isn’t this just a fantastic book title? It makes me want to go round muttering those three words to myself, trying to avoid twisting my tongue with the wash wish thing.

Sita Brahmachari has written another great book for Barrington Stoke, and this time it’s a nicely timed autism story, for National Autism Awareness Month.

Sita Brahmachari, Car Wash Wish

14-year-old Hudson is an aspie, and his dad is one as well, which is why Hudson now lives with his mum and stepdad and his unborn half-sibling, currently going by the name of Zygote. Hudson likes the letter Z. A lot.

To make matters worse, his dad’s dad has died and there is a funeral to go to, to dress for. His mum always felt that her late father-in-law, who had Alzheimer’s, took up all her husband’s attention, which is why they split up.

Hudson just wants to understand the world, and to be with his dad, as well as with his mum, and Zygote, with whom he chats by himself in order to introduce their family.

There is a car wash in his dad’s past, and the importance of this becomes evident as you read the book. That’s the car wash wish.

Lovely.

Raymie Nightingale

Every last little bit of detail mentioned in Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale is put to good use before this sweet and funny book comes to an end. Based on previous books I knew it was going to be good, but was unsure how Kate would manage it [the sweet and funny ending] this time. No need for concern, as she knows how to write a book.

Kate DiCamillo, Raymie Nightingale

Set in the 1960s in Florida, ten-year-old Raymie has just lost her father, to a dental hygienist. She has worked out that by learning to twirl a baton she can get him back, which is why we find her having a rather failed baton-twirling lesson in chapter one.

What she does achieve in this lesson, is finding two new friends, both of whom also have needs that require dealing with. Together they set about breaking into a nursing home and rescuing a dead cat. Not at the same time, obviously.

This is very, very special, and I marvel at the mind of anyone who can come up with these ideas. The story benefits from having adult characters who don’t need to be killed off, as they are nicely quirky individuals with strong opinions of their own, fitting in well with the plot.

Sun on Seacrow Island

I virtually am Tjorven, and summers on Seacrow Island are my past [well, you know], and I can feel the heat and the light in this sun-soaked spot. Because I – and most Swedes – have had summer after summer of this kind of life. It’s what’s natural; it’s what we still strive for, and want to give our children. The difference today is the cost of a house in a place like this. No Melker Melkerson could hope to strike lucky and buy his children’s summer paradise. Not even if he was awarded the ALMA. Well maybe, if he was content with some far flung summer beach a long way from the Stockholm archipelago.

Astrid Lindgren, Vi på Saltkråkan

I watched Seacrow Island on television in real time, being the same age as its main character Tjorven, and I know it back to front, as do Offspring and even the Resident IT Consultant. I only had to mention that the English translation has Pelle put on a windcheater when he gets on the boat with Malin and Krister, for him to burst out that ‘no, he doesn’t.’ (I clearly married the right man.)

It was wonderful finding a chubby seven-year-old as the main character, and despite my summers taking place on the west coast rather than on an island off the east coast, they were much the same. My summer shop was like their summer shop. I bet the smells were the same and we probably ate the same food (hamburger meat is not mince; it’s a sliced sandwich meat, that may or may not have a horsey background) and swatted the same wasps and hoped for ice cream.

For Christmas 1964 I received two copies of the book (which is unusual in that it’s the book of the television series, not vice versa), and I read one of them and loved it almost as much. I mention this mainly because the book might now strike you as too hard for that age group, but it certainly worked back then.

The English translation in this newly re-issued Seacrow Island is the 1960s one by Evelyn Ramsden, and I find it gives the reader the right feel of what it was like. The question, I suppose, is whether that’s what today’s children want. I hope it is. I wish they too could have summers like mine, and that they could watch the television series. But at least the book is available.

Astrid Lindgren, Seacrow Island

The new gorgeous cover should be perfect for attracting adult buyers, lovers of Nordic Noir, who want to give their child a children’s version of what’s so popular right now. Because this does not in any way look like my sun-soaked island, nor does it look like Sweden. Think the Lofoten archipelago in northern Norway, with a somewhat menacing sun shining on a chilly looking set of hills with church-like houses. Also, the ‘real’ Saltkråkan is not as empty of people as the blurb suggests. But hopefully any young reader will simply tuck in and enjoy.

I’m glad Seacrow Island is back in the shops once more, and please put this idyllic, but realistic, holiday book in the hands of a nearby child!