Spellchasers – The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat

Lari Don has a nice turn of phrase. Just listen to this; ‘So that’s how dryads define excitement … Watching plants grow slowly upwards!’

I know that her Spellchasers trilogy – of which The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat is the last book – is really for fairly young readers. But there is certainly no talking down at them, and I have to say that I enjoyed this. Even ignoring the fact that I obviously can’t pass by such a witchy title.

Lari Don, The Witch's Guide to Magical Combat

From the first book about Molly, who turns into a hare when she hears a dog bark, I felt the characters could easily be older than the 11 or 12 I believe they are meant to be. And that’s because these children are mature, and the language is older than you sometimes get for this age group. Which is good, because it will help the readers grow and learn, while having fun.

Molly can now become almost any animal, and not only by hearing barking, so she needs to learn to control that magic. But they have all lost some control of their powers, or they have too much. Theo might kill off the whole neighbour-hood, and Innes really shouldn’t quarrel with his dad, and whatever happened to Atacama, who seems to be asleep? Beth is feeling extra protective of her trees, and the old witch has ‘lost’ her powers. So not everything is as it was.

There is the usual bluff and double-bluff, when you can’t be quite sure if someone is on your side. Our versatile group of friends needs to find a way to set things right, preferably without causing mayhem. And Molly has to decide if she’s to become a witch, because ‘it seems daft to become something that I’m not, in order to stop being something that I am.’

That I can identify with.

I’m not surprised that Lari has some pretty eager fans. She had a launch for her third book last night, and I remember the fans at the launch for the first book only five months ago. Who could resist such fun, not to mention a book with such a shiny cover that it lights up the whole room?

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The Murderer’s Ape

You will want to read this award-winning book. At least I hope you will. I can’t believe I didn’t know [more] about The Murderer’s Ape by Swede Jakob Wegelius, before it was translated into English, by none other than Peter Graves. Or that I hadn’t even heard of the first book about the gorilla by the name of Sally Jones. Also award-winning.

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer's Ape

I believe that in the first novel about Sally Jones (no, you can’t just call her Sally) the reader meets the baby gorilla, and finds out how Sally Jones got her name, and how she learned to do all those human things she’s so good at, apart from talking. Sally Jones does not speak, but thankfully she can type, and that’s how we know about the dreadful time when her best friend Henry Koskela is jailed for murder, and what Sally Jones did to free him.

Like many of the best characters in fiction, Sally Jones is both a loyal and loving friend, as well as extremely skilled at many things. Until the murder Sally Jones and Koskela – the Chief – had run a cargo boat, and she’s an experienced engineer. When the Chief ends up in jail, Sally Jones has to use all her skills, and learn many new ones, to help him.

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer's Ape

She also makes new friends; really lovely friends, although never quite as special as the Chief. And it goes without saying that there are many new enemies for Sally Jones. Powerful people want to stop her from helping Koskela, and for someone who doesn’t speak, it’s not always easy to ‘speak out.’

This beautifully illustrated book (drawings by Jakob Wegelius himself), set some time in the first half of the 20th century, mainly in Portugal and in India, has the feel of a classic film. It’s a wonderful adventure with a genuine pre-WWII feel to it; a time when anything was possible, and there was both good and evil, and unimaginable wealth, but also possibilities for going places if you worked hard and were good at what you did.

It does take a little while to get used to Sally Jones being a gorilla, but only about as long as it takes those who become her dearest friends to understand what a gem she is. And if you want to get rid of your useless boyfriend, Sally Jones is your, well, gorilla.

This is nearly 600 pages of exciting, nail-biting, romantic adventure. Besides, you can’t beat a bit of good engine grease.

The Warrior in the Mist

When your future is threatened by the fracking about to be let lose on the land where you live, the obvious thing is to look for the tomb of Boudicca, in the hopes that finding it will stop the drilling. It’s the kind of thing one would expect from the kind of teenagers Ruth Eastham puts in her books, and The Warrior in the Mist is no exception.

Ruth Eastham, The Warrior in the Mist

If not stopped, then Aidan will have to move away, and ‘his’ beloved horse Centurion will most likely be sold, which would be another loss after the death of his mother.

What I like in Ruth’s stories is that the young people who end up doing what they have to do, are so nice. By which I mean there is none of the hostile quarrels or scheming that so often goes with groups of teenagers. These young people simply get on with what has to be done. And in this book it’s finding Boudicca and her two daughters.

Can’t be too hard, can it?

It seems that Aidan and Emmi and Jon have paid attention in school, as they at least know what to look for.

Is Boudicca fashionable? I ask, because I sense I have come across her more frequently in the last year or so. Or maybe she’s always been a good historical character to put in your story.

As always, it pays to be wary of people. You just never know who will be the bad guy. And having your own drone is really quite useful.

Strike on TV

Why, oh why, is it more all right to attack J K Rowling than many other authors?

I liked The Cuckoo’s Calling as a book, and having watched the television series I will admit to having liked that too. Other people have either enjoyed it, or not. This is normal, and an exchange of views is healthy, and happens with many crime series on television. For instance, I didn’t like The Bridge, but am happy that many others did. They are not wrong, but neither am I.

But if you liked – or more importantly, didn’t like – Cormoran Strike, then for some reason it seems to be down to J K Rowling and her successes and her money. The BBC don’t seem to get a mention. And I have seen little discussion as to whether Tom Burke acted well, or if Holliday Grainger was a good Robin. (I think she was. I like Robin in the book, and could easily have been let down by the wrong actress.)

Cormoran Strike

It wasn’t an outstanding crime effort. But it was enjoyable enough. Better than Midsomer, or Branagh as Wallander. It was not realistic, but it doesn’t have to be. The characters moved between attractive London spots, walking down the kinds of streets I and many others associate with London.

In fact, what it is, is an excellent export for viewers in other countries. Those who go crazy over all things English. I know, because I am one of them, or was, and what I watched just now is exactly the kind of thing fans of England like.

It looks like J K was involved in the production of the series. I could see that this would make people gripe again, along the lines that money will buy you anything. Maybe. But what I felt quite strongly was that the screenplay followed the soul of the book, unlike many similar ventures where you are disappointed if the film version bears far too little resemblance to a beloved book.

Also thought it was good to have actors who are not so well known that you see their past roles as you watch.

But you know that pseudonym, Robert Galbraith? Noticed on social media that some people had no idea who he really is. So it would seem that the irritating fame hasn’t reached every corner of the country.

Ferryman

Claire McFall knows a lot about the afterlife. I had no idea it was so hard dying, by which I mean the stuff that happens after you’ve died, in whatever form your death takes. And it seems that what you didn’t like alive, is quite possibly going to be what you have to go through as you try to get your soul to a good place. Or be lost forever.

Claire McFall, Ferryman

In fact, what is surprising is that you can die again, as if it wasn’t enough the first time. If you are not diligent while traipsing through the wasteland, wraiths will come and get you and your soul will be lost.

On the other hand, the ‘real’ afterlife, which you could reach once mountains and swamps and anything else you hate have been conquered, seems really quite nice. But I’d never get up that first hill.

Although, if you get your personal Ferryman and he/she is as lovely as Tristan is to [dead] Dylan, then I suppose there are compensations.

On a train journey to meet her long lost father, Dylan dies in a train crash. This is how she meets Tristan, whose task it is to get her soul safely across the wasteland.

But what if you fall in love? You’re both dead, but in different ways, and there can be no happy ever after[life]. Or can there?

Ferryman is a romance with a difference. I thought at first it was just going to be another teen romance, even if they were dead, but there is more to it. It makes you think. And it also makes me wonder how they can keep up such personal service, considering how many people die all the time. But I’m guessing the afterlife is vast.

And surprisingly, the last six lines are somewhat creepy. Don’t know if they are meant to be, but I shivered a bit when I got there.

Cutting edge

I had my hair cut the other day. And on a good day the hairdresser remembers I am into books, and we can talk books. I suppose it helped that I brought one with me. To read, in case he was delayed with some other woman’s hair. It calms my nerves. The reading. Not other people’s hair.

He does read, which is nice. Not all hairdressers do. His children read, too. I asked once.

His current book is Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. So I immediately burst out with the words ‘that’s a Swedish book!’ He might not have known that.

He then paid me a compliment by saying he thought the book read so well, that it could almost be an original English one… I’m sure translator Roy Bradbury will be pleased to know.

And as Daughter and I had discussed the film just a week or so ago, I said I’d been thinking of watching the film. He said he thought it’d make a good film. I said it already had. And I’d been surprised to discover the film is several years old, since it felt as though it was only this year.

Time goes fast sometimes.

So based on that, I decided to look up how old the book is, and found it’s actually seven years already. But the English book version is two years old, so the film clearly happened before the translation.

Whether I find time to read Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann is uncertain. But I do feel the film must be watched. If only to make sure it doesn’t climb out any windows and disappears.

I suppose the next thing I should do is ask the hairdresser if he buys his books, and if so, where. Because he lives in Cumbernauld, where they don’t have any bookshops. I’ve been meaning to look into that, but it’s good to know that people still read, anyway.

Mads for Mayor

Trying to decide who came into my life first, Mads Mikkelsen or Patrick Ness. It’s all in the past, and that’s getting murkier by the minute. Some things I just don’t remember.

And others I do. That fateful – but really lovely – young reviewers club I was connected with quite a few years ago, for instance. I remember that one of the boys read The Knife of Never Letting Go. I thought it a curious title, and I wasn’t sure what I thought of the language, so I didn’t read it. Then.

The boy’s review was published on a review site that didn’t exactly get lots of hits, but some. One visitor was Patrick Ness. (I reckon most authors google themselves and their books. At least early on.) I followed the lead to where his subsequent link was coming from, which was on his blog. The review was the first, or one of the first, which was especially noticeable because it was before the book was officially out.

Patrick was pleased, and I was pleased that he was pleased.

Mads Mikkelsen. I know exactly where I clapped eyes on him. Just not when. His Danish television police series Rejseholdet seemed to be screened on Swedish television every summer, and one evening midway through an episode, I happened to switch on. I disliked him on sight.

But I enjoyed Rejseholdet, and eventually, after many years, I grew fond of Mads. And by now I, and the rest of the world, have seen him in lots of films, international as well as Danish.

I had never imagined Mayor Prentiss in The Knife of Never Letting Go looking like Mads. Not even a little bit. But I expect he’ll be marvellous as the ghastly Mayor. I’m already looking forward to the film, but suppose I will have to wait until 2019 for Chaos Walking, as it will be known. Slightly less of a mouthful than the book title.