Category Archives: Review

Houdini and the Five-Cent Circus

I freely admit to not knowing a lot about Harry Houdini, other than marvelling at his abilities to escape. It seems he had a ‘normal’ childhood as Erik Weiss, and that’s what Keith Gray has written about here, when Erik was eleven.

Keith Gray, Houdini and the Five-Cent Circus

At some point I wondered how Keith knew all these things about the young Houdini, but soon realised that authors make things up. So this might be true, or it might not be. It still gave me valuable background to the great Houdini.

Erik’s friend Jack dares him to unlock all the shops in the main shopping street in their little American town. At least in this book, Erik displays autistic traits, so he does as he’s told, and can see nothing wrong with it.

Along with their friend Mattie they end up having another couple of adventures, based on Erik’s skill at picking locks, and you can see how he works out the direction he might go in, for some real success.

Really enjoyed this early window on someone so famous, reminding me that we all have to start somewhere.

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Granny Garbage

I’m not usually big on poetry at all, and scary poetry is not a thing I’ve really come across. But there is always a first time for nearly everything.

One of my guests on Wednesday, Joan Lennon, not only writes really great novels, but she’s into poetry too. Scary poetry. Instead of flowers/chocolate/wine Joan gave me a thin leaflet, which is her most recent literary offering (I missed the launch). Granny Garbage.

Joan Lennon, Granny Garbage

She reassured me that it wasn’t going to be so horrible that I’d not be able to sleep. But this poem lasting no longer than sixteen pages is not without fear. Especially when you get to the end, even if there is some menace on every page.

Look out for Granny Garbage.

(I mean that any way you might think I mean it.)

If all the world were…

A little girl who loves her Grandad. What could be sweeter? Allison Colpoys shows us the world of this little girl, how she walks with her Grandad and how they play together, and the stories he tells her from his childhood in India. The love shines from both of them.

Joseph Coelho’s poetic words tell us more and we are literally there with the two of them. A year passes and then one day Grandad’s comfy armchair is empty.

I defy anyone not to cry at that point, even if the cues had warned that it would happen.

We see the girl helping her parents clear out his room, and finding mementoes of his long life, as well as a late gift from him.

It’s a book that should help children deal with a loss, whether it’s already happened, or when it does.

Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys, If all the world were...

Daddy Long Legs

Daddies. They can, and they will.

The little boy in this picture book by Nadine Brun-Cosme, and very French, retro illustrations by Aurélie Guillerey, gets worried after his daddy’s car won’t start one morning.

Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurélie Guillerey, Daddy Long Legs

Eventually it does, and they get to nursery. But what shall the boy do if this happens again and his daddy can’t come and pick him up? This is a very real kind of worry for small children.

His daddy knows a solution and tells him. ‘But what if…?’ There are countless solutions that the boy can see a problem with.

But his daddy has one final plan. He will always be able to come for his little boy.

Being early

Thank goodness we were out! Son’s fourth birthday – a very long time ago – fell during the week, so I decided to have his party on the Sunday before. One of the mothers when she turned up with her son, mentioned she’d got it wrong and had brought the boy along on the Saturday. He was not best impressed. What should I have done had we been in?

My friend Esperanto Girl knows a little of this. For one of my many ‘Tupperware’ parties back then, she arrived on the dot of one hour too early. Luckily for both of us, I was frantically well prepared, so I was completely ready (this never happens now) and simply asked her to come in and we sat and chatted for an hour. It was nice. She was embarrassed and felt she should go and come back, but that would have been a waste of a good hour.

Which brings me to a book I liked a lot during the last year. I wanted the review to be on publication day, and as I’d received my copy really early, that was easy to do. I know the pattern of what days of the week books come out, and the given date fitted this.

The publicist’s email just before the day gave the ‘wrong’ date. I could tell, as it was for a Saturday. So I stuck to my original plan and reviewed on the ‘correct’ date. Was a little surprised to find that the ever so keen publicist seemed to have gone on holiday, and the [debut] author didn’t react to the review. At all.

And then, about a month later, it was actually publication day. Not the day I’d been told at first, nor the one in that late email, but another date; one fitting the pattern of day of week and everything.

The author Tweeted and Facebooked and chirped. I was bemused, and ignored.

There was presumably a reason for the delay. I feel that for a book that I was emailed about quite so many times, the date should have been right, and I could have been notified of a change.

I sometimes do review early, but then there is a reason. Maybe I want to stir up some early interest. Maybe I want to go on about the book more than once. I just want to know I’m doing it, because not even with my fondness for being early, a month is a little over the top.

Home Home

Lisa Allen-Agostini’s book Home Home is a short novel about many different big topics; depression, going to live somewhere new, getting on with your parents, race, sexuality, plus the ‘normal’ teen kind of angst most of us have known. It’s a lot to put into one book.

Lisa Allen-Agostini

It’s not until the last page that the reader learns the name of the narrator. She’s Kayla, and she’s 14 and has recently moved from Trinidad to Canada to live with her lesbian aunt to get over having tried to kill herself because of depression.

As you can see, a lot to deal with.

Much as I’m glad to see depression making it into a teen novel, it’s so short, that I feel it’s mostly there to explain why Kayla has come to Canada, without her mother, to live with an aunt she barely knows, and the aunt’s partner/wife.

But it is very interesting reading about the various difficulties of ending up somewhere so different from your home home, as she calls it. Everything is new, like the weather, where Kayla feels cold when the locals undress because it’s warm. Being one of the few black faces in a white area. Coming to terms with same sex relationships.

There could – should – be more books here, or one much longer.

And I occasionally wish that part of the solution wasn’t in meeting a gorgeous boy who really likes you. It’s a fairy tale [temporary] ending to a bad situation, and one that few of us would experience. I’d like to know more about how Kayla and her depression will work out.

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

I love Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone books so much that when she told me the latest one wasn’t being published in the UK, I bought my own copy of Al Capone Throws Me a Curve. It was worth it.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Moose Flanagan is now 13 [and a half] and tall and kind and capable, and everyone expects a lot from him. But he’s still only 13, and it’s late May 1936 on Alcatraz, and school is about to finish and Moose wants to spend the summer playing baseball, hoping to join the team, just like other boys.

His older sister Natalie is about to turn 17, and needs to be watched over by Moose, because being autistic and living side-by-side with convicts on a rock isn’t ideal. Moose also needs to keep an eye on the Warden’s daughter, Piper, which turns his summer more into ‘girl-sitting’ than baseball playing.

So far it’s been quite easy to overlook Moose’s mother, but she has to be taken into account as well, and there is more woman trouble from Mrs Trixle, meaning Moose really has his work cut out. There’s only so much one boy can do.

This is a very much a baseball story and I happily admit to understanding almost none of it, except that Moose is dead keen. How to convince the team to take him and his friend on is another matter, though.

The story will ring true to anyone with an autistic sibling; how everything turns into being about them, and how you have to be the good one, putting your own needs aside. But even Natalie has some surprises up her sleeve. And when all is said and done, Moose discovers that while baseball is important, the safety of his family comes first.

Playing baseball with Al Capone? I’m not sure I recommend it.

This book, on the other hand, I do. And if you’ve not read the others, get them all. This is US history and a story about a boy and an autism book, all rolled into one. A great period piece!