Category Archives: Review

Binny Bewitched

Never was a Hilary McKay book so needed as this week. Her magic worked well, considering my state of mind, and I feel much better for having read Binny Bewitched, the third book about Binny and her lovely family. And I’m honoured that Hilary put a witch in there.

Hilary McKay, Binny Bewitched

It seems that there is a new neighbour on the opposite side to Binny’s friend’s Gareth’s house, who might just be a witch. She seems to know all about the money Binny ‘found’ by the cash machine.

When you are counting the pennies in your daily life, unexpected ‘piles’ of money will appear to be just the solution. If your mother has an impending birthday, for instance.

Poor Binny spends the entire book in a state of confusion; what to do with the money, who to tell, how to remember where she hid it, and so on. She keeps seeing stuff. Not where the money is, but many other puzzling things. It’s got to be the witch’s doing.

There are bills to pay, now that Pete the builder has more or less finished putting the house together after the roof blew off in book two. Clem is worried and James has a new, weird, friend, and Mrs Cornwallis works all hours to earn enough money.

It’s hard to see how a story about – relative – poverty can be so heartwarming, but it is. Naturally. Very satisfying that I didn’t see the end coming. Well, some of it, and then only halfway through. Loved it!

The Superpower Project

Exploding grannies appear to be a thing these days. Especially at the beginning of books, and I suppose it’s as well to get granny out of the way as soon as you can, plotwise and with a violent end.

Paul Bristow and Luke Newell, The Superpower Project

Paul Bristow’s first book The Superpower Project is both funny and exciting. Illustrated in comic style by Luke Newell, it looks just like the kind of book middle grade readers would be drawn to, but had I not been offered this by an adult, I’d never have looked at it twice.

And that would have been a shame, because I enjoyed it a lot, and I should know by now not to judge a book this way. The blurb is much more my kind of thing, though.

Megan and Cam suddenly discover they have superpowers. Megan can fly, and Cam can, well, turn into a hamster. This all seems to have something to do with Megan’s gran. They sort of inherit an ancient robot with amnesia, and soon after they discover that the town’s transformer-sculpture robots are out to kill them.

So why did gran explode, what did she want them to do, and what’s with all these sculptures, and their weirder than weird owner Mr Finn?

Set in Greenock, the children and their robot end up investigating old factories and an old hospital, a graveyard and the bottom of the river, among other things. They are brave and intelligent and with a nice line in humorous chat. And hamsters are obviously really useful animals.

When you think about it.

There is a promising epilogue, too, and I can only hope there might be more mayhem in Greenock before long. There are several other characters it’d be fun to see more of.

And I actually didn’t know that all schools are legally obliged to have three nice teachers.

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Somebody please give me a baby elephant! I am so in love with little Ganesha in Vaseem Khan’s crime novels about the retired inspector Chopra. I hope young elephants really do act and think like Ganesha, because if they do, the world will be better for it.

Vaseem Khan, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

In his second book about this upright citizen and private detective – a man who cannot be bribed – Vaseem aims very high indeed. The crime is the theft of the Crown Jewels, and most importantly the Koh-i-Noor. The police are incompetent and corrupt, so it is up to Chopra to work out who did it, and also to find the priceless jewel.

This was even more fun than the first book, with a new character to care about, and with a much larger role for Mrs Chopra (and her mother…) and the retired inspector even gets himself an assistant. I hope his unreliable heart will stand up to all this private detecting and rushing about, because I want a lot more.

As in the first novel, we get to see India as we – probably – didn’t know it, and the food is delicious! I mean, it really seems as if the food is very good. I wouldn’t object to a small sample included with the book.

Dindy and the Elephant

There is less elephant in this book by Elizabeth Laird than the title leads you to expect. But that’s OK. What’s there is quite satisfying, and I feel as though I could almost deal with an angry elephant.

Elizabeth Laird, Dindy and the Elephant

I have to admit to a particular fondness for period fiction from India, and former British Empire countries in Africa. This one is set in India, on a tea plantation between the end of the war and just before Indian independence.

Nine-year-old Dindy and her brother Pog, who’s only six, escape from their bungalow one day when bored, despite not being allowed out. That’s when they encounter the potentially dangerous elephant.

But this is mostly about how much love ‘British’ children born and growing up in India have for their country, and how people of their parents’ generation don’t necessarily share that love. Dindy’s mother hates India and looks down on the natives, including those who work for the family.

Prejudice from both sides emerges and it’s interesting to see how they deal with a bad situation, and also what their feelings really are.

Very lovely little book. Whereas there might be no point in a sequel, I rather feel it’d be nice to see what happened next.

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

Out of the Clouds

Hope. That’s what the name of the Polish boat means, and it’s what Oliver Coggins needs. In fact, what all the Cogginses need. Diana Hendry’s Out of the Clouds is a sweet, traditional story, and we don’t get anywhere near enough of them.

Diana Hendry, Out of the Clouds

Oliver lives with his family in the rambling, tower like house his father built for them before he took off with no explanation. Dizzy Perch as it is called, is some distance outside the village of Starwater, where Oliver goes shopping every week. He pops in for food, which he then cooks for his family, and to hopefully ask – every week – if there is any post. There never is.

Well, there are occasional parcels of library books for his Ma, to read or to use for home schooling lessons, never to be returned (which worries Oliver considerably). Despite having two siblings, a mother and a grandfather, Oliver is lonely, and he wants his father to return. He counts the days. It’s been over six months.

He tries to be all things to all his family, but you are left wondering what more they could be to him. [I think] he is about 11, which is too young to shop and cook and clean, while not being deemed old enough to know what his father is doing.

The family is charmingly sweet and eccentric, but you can’t help wishing for more normality for Oliver. Eventually he makes friends with the Polish boy from the boat Hope, and he also decides he must take the mystery of his father into his own hands.

Even if he’s not meant to.

Theodore Boone – The Scandal

The final Theodore Boone book has, perhaps, a slightly less exciting crime at its core. But it is just as important, and it’s good for young readers to see that an adult author will address things like standardised tests. All too often children feel that adults are not on their side.

Theo, the youthful almost-lawyer, is in grade eight and it’s time for the tests that will determine what set he will be in when he starts high school. Contrary to what we might expect, he’s not good at tests, and that goes for many of his friends at school too. They feel stressed and their teachers are stressed. Salaries could depend on how well the students do.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone - The Scandal

Add to this a less than ideal home background, and you can understand why the tests aren’t necessarily good for you. Theo finds out how lucky he is, though, when experiencing first hand how bad life is for some of his peers. And that’s before the tests.

The title The Scandal refers to the cheating, but it’s not the kind of cheating that first comes to mind. Theo’s friend April is involved and he tries to advise her, but she has her own agenda.

His parents find themselves a little bit out of their comfort zone as well, as does uncle Ike. And the almost tame otter Otto…

As in the five earlier books about Theo, you learn that you can – try to – do something to make things better and fairer. At least some of the time.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the books in this series.