Lit hotel

Take one old(ish) communist millionaire, allow him to have quite a lot of opinions about a lot of things, and you can work out that he will make enemies as he goes about his daily business. Which includes running a couple of hotels.

I have known [about] this owner of Hotell Gästis in Varberg for many years, and been vaguely acquainted with him since that literature module at university nearly forty years ago, but haven’t seen him except for a couple of years ago at Uncle’s funeral.

I have been aware of the hotel all my life, as it’s opposite the block of flats where GP Cousin grew up. But this was my first stay there, and I was intrigued to find owner Lasse Diding sharing his latest feud on facebook only a day before I travelled.

Hotell Gästis - wall art

He likes books, so is well suited to host a Bookwitch. The rooms are stuffed with books to read (and if you haven’t finished when you leave you can take it with you), and the corridors and the bar and the restaurant are even more stuffed. With books.

Hotell Gästis - book cover poster and books

So, the feud. I gather Lasse doesn’t get on with the leader writer on the local paper Hallands Nyheter. The latest trick is to uninvite him to sponsor the annual Book Day in town, where visiting authors have been put up in the hotel. It seems a shame, as this centrally placed book-hotel couldn’t be more ideal. (Well, perhaps anyone similarly afflicted to your Bookwitch might have opinions on the outlandish arrangements for ablutions in the bathroom, but we are not all like that.)

Hotell Gästis - the bath, shower?

(There is also a Lenin spa. Obviously.)

An earlier feud was over the statue Lasse bought and donated to the town. Some twenty years ago a woman somewhere in Sweden witnessed a neo-nazi march and got so furious that she hit them with her handbag. This has now been made into a statue, and not everyone is keen on it. It’s a shame, since we need more of this kind of courage.

Hotell Gästis - books

What I personally needed as I arrived, was plenty of tea. Lasse is not a member of the kettle in your room brigade, which I’m afraid I feel is a service that cannot ever be over-rated. There is a fridge. Books. Lovely period armchairs. Old-fashioned desk, and broadband. (The password is a literary one.) Books. Shoehorn. Magazines. Art on the walls. Fan. Outlandish bath/shower arrangement. Books. ‘Oriental’ rugs everywhere.

He does, however, include a buffet dinner in the room price. I drank a large cup of Earl Grey after dinner. Then another. Whoever chose that blend of Earl Grey should have a statue made of them.

Hotell Gästis - armchair

And if the coffee is as good, I can – almost – understand the local conservative politician who regularly calls in to steal cups of coffee and biscuits. I believe this is now in the hands of the law. I’d just about be prepared to nick some tea when passing through town. Except I wouldn’t. Just because someone is well off, and a communist, doesn’t mean we should steal from them.

But we could accept their statues.

There is obviously no way I will be helping myself to a book for the onward journey.

Fir for Luck

I decided to start reading Barbara Henderson’s Fir for Luck just before setting off travelling last week. I was going to see what it was like, and if it seemed promising, I’d continue reading it on my return, because I wasn’t going to add another book to my travel pile.

Well, you can guess what happened, of course. It was really quite promising, and I came to the conclusion that there was ‘plenty of room’ in my handluggage for Barbara’s book, so I could read it on the plane. Before the other planned books.

Barbara Henderson, Fir for Luck

Barbara has based her debut novel on real events from the Highland Clearances, and it is both exciting and terrifying and upsetting. Even when you know roughly what happened then, it still becomes more serious and real when you meet people and see exactly what was done to them. As with most things, you feel more when it’s someone you know.

The main character is 12-year-old Janet, who accidentally ends up the heroine of her village as it’s about to be demolished and everyone in it sent packing, with hardly any notice. What makes it more powerful is the fact that Janet’s grandmother has already had this happen to her once before, when Janet’s father was a little boy.

In the midst of the dreadful threats to Janet’s village, we learn what life there is like, and what sort of people live in it, and what they do for a living. There are grades of importance within the little community, and having a better house doesn’t necessarily save you when the day comes.

You know there can’t be a happily ever after solution, but you wish that some good will come of the fight to stay, which Janet starts.

It’s fascinating, and really so very exciting that you simply can’t go on a trip mid-book and leave it behind.

Wave

Set on the 1st of July in 1916, and also in 2016, the adult reader can work out what happens. At first I regretted not having read it on the day, so to speak, but am glad I didn’t. It’s such a loaded kind of date.

Paul Dowswell, Wave

Paul Dowswell has come up with two pairs of brothers – Eddie and Charlie Taylor. One pair for each century. Today’s boys are the great grandsons of one of the soldiers in 1916. Their grandmother is Rose, as was the girlfriend of one of the young men in 1916. The modern Rose is the daughter of the older Rose.

Clearing out their great grandparents’ house in Hastings, they find a photo of the older two, taken at the Somme on that fateful morning, as they waited to be part of the First Wave. Today’s Eddie wants to join up, unlike the older Eddie who only went to war in order to do the same as his big brother Charlie.

This short and sad story shows us the same day, one hundred years apart, and how the two sets of brothers handle the war, and the memories of it.

Very powerful, and it is yet more proof of the horrors of war, and how easily persuaded young men can be.

3 bookbug picture book treats

Alison Murrey, Hare and Tortoise

It will always be the first time for someone, even with a well known tale like the one about the Hare and Tortoise. I like the version by Alison Murray which, along with the other two books mentioned below, has been shortlisted for the Bookbug Picture Book Prize.

The illustrations are both sweet and funny, and there is something satisfyingly endearing about the silly hare and the hardworking tortoise. It works every time.

Ross Collins, There's a Bear on my Chair

In Ross Collins’s There’s a Bear on My Chair I didn’t predict what was going to happen, which made it much more fun for me. The pictures are lovely on their own, or you could just ‘read’ without reading if you wanted to. The poor little mouse who has to think of ways to get silly big bear off his chair. It’s poetic, too, and reads rather like a Dr Seuss story.

Lovely book.

Nick Sharratt, Shark in the Park on a Windy Day

With Nick Sharratt’s Shark in the Park, on the other hand, I could see exactly how it must end. It’s the cry wolf scenario. You keep thinking there’s a shark in the park, and then it turns there isn’t.

Until, well, until there is.

As always, cheery colours, in that loveable style Nick has. Just watch how you go in the park. It might even be preferable to have a bear on your chair. Or to be the silly hare.

Counting one’s cheetahs

Jackie Morris, One Cheetah, One Cherry

One Cheetah, One Cherry by Jackie Morris is ‘a book of beautiful numbers.’ In other words, it’s a learn-to-count book, made by an artist.

Count those pandas and the tigers. Or why not elephants and china teacups?

Very sumptuous art, and I can see how adults might be tempted to cut out the art and put it on their walls, and never mind any counting!

If you know Jackie Morris and her work, you’ll know what to expect. Maybe you’ll make a future art lover?

Write your own

Deborah Patterson has two new books, full of pictures, just waiting for the words.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own myths

Well, there are words, of course. My Book of Stories; write your own myths, and write your own fairy tales explain many of the traditional stories, have illustrations to inspire, and then masses of pages where you can just write. Lined pages, speech bubbles, the lot.

I have said before how tempting it is to write in books. I reckon I would have found these very inviting as a child. Unless you have a contrary one who won’t write when it’s actually allowed. But that’s your problem.

You could always steal the book and write your own bedtime tales to read from.

This is a nice way of both educating and entertaining a child, while encouraging any creative vein they might harbour.

In fact, I suspect I could do with educating a wee bit. Now that I think of it.

Maya Angelou

I knew nothing about Maya Angelou when I first read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, back in my teens. Rather mistakenly I assumed it’d be boring. But it wasn’t, and I went on to read the other two books about Maya’s life. I was mostly surprised that it could seem so modern and ‘with it’ for being set as long ago [then] as over thirty years before.

As an adult I kept track of what became of the marvellous Maya, until the day she read her poetry in public, next to the new President, thus proving how much a black girl from the American South can do.

Lisbeth Kaiser and Leire Salaberria, Maya Angelou

There is a new picture book about Maya, by Lisbeth Kaiser, with illustrations by Leire Salaberria.

To be truthful I do feel it is a little bit sugary sweet, but probably aimed at really quite young children, so I suppose it has to be. They have to skirt over what really was done to Maya by men, and by society.

But it’s important that young children can read success stories like hers, as well as finding a small black girl in a book like this. Whether that’s more important if you are black, or white, I can’t say. We all have our needs, and we must be educated.

Hopefully this book will inspire young children to learn more about Maya, once they are a little older. She was truly a great role model.