Tag Archives: Jenny Valentine

Good, better, best

2015 is a rare year. Its best book happens to be my third best book ever. So no contest as to who sits at the top of the Bookwitch Best of 2015 Books list. It’s

Sally Gardner with her The Door That Led to Where. Among many stunning books, this is the stunningest of them all. The Door That Led to Where is a novel that has it all, to my mind. Just getting it out to look at again as I write this, I feel all twitchy.

It is red. Perhaps that is a sign I can re-read it over Christmas? It’s been almost a year. (And on a different note, I was pleased to see Sally’s book finally reviewed in the Guardian this weekend. High time indeed. And I’m not the only one to think so.)

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

So, now that this obvious choice has been announced, I come to the rest. Eight books stand out as having been that little bit more ‘stand-outy’ than others. They are books that made me feel all warm inside as I read them. (Apart from Helen Grant’s book which made my blood go cold. In a good way.)

These warm ones are, in alphabetical order:

Stephen Davies, Blood & Ink

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

Andrew Norriss, Jessica’s Ghost

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove White Raven

On the longlist were another 25 books, so the tip of the iceberg was pretty big. But the point of a best of list is that it is a litte bit short.

Thank you to all who wrote these, my bestest books of the year. You make a difference.

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Fire Colour One

It’s been too long. I’ve missed Jenny Valentine, but she’s been ill. And that’s why she knows how to write a book like Fire Colour One. Finding Violet Park was about death, and so is this one. And it’s also about life.

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Iris is a teenage ‘arsonist.’ No, perhaps that is too strong a term for what she does, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Iris likes setting fire to things. She feels better when there is fire.

Her rather uncaring and unpleasant mother and stepfather don’t exactly help. After many years in the US they have returned to Britain, and as luck would have it, Iris’s long lost super wealthy father is lying on his death bed. In her mother’s eyes this means a great potential inheritance, so off they go to visit and to get a closer look at all those lovely paintings Ernest owns. Iris would rather not go, since she feels she doesn’t know this man who abandoned her as a toddler.

But he doesn’t die immediately, and they get to know each other a bit. We also learn a few things about Iris in America, about some of her fires, as well as her only friend, Thurston, who’s been lost in the move, and whom she can’t contact.

You can guess at some of what will happen in this book, but I didn’t see the really big thing coming. Fire Colour One is a lovely, life affirming story, despite Iris’s fondness for matches and dry stuff. Jenny’s writing really is magic.

Dare I recommend a book?

Well. Do I?

Some discussion broke out the other day after my review of Losing It. I was halfway to sending an email to a young reader of my acquaintance, suggesting he/she read Losing It, when I came to my senses and thought I might have to ask permission from the parents first. And my next thought was that they’d think ‘there goes that tiresome woman again’. So I didn’t.

Steve Augarde left comments saying he thought recommendations were fine, but even he felt he’d prefer it to come to him rather than directly at any child of his. I brought the subject up with some visitors to our house yesterday. They also felt recommendations were OK, but they too would like any ‘sexy’ recommendation to come via them.

So we’re back to my old complaint about school libraries where they are afraid of parents turning to the press if any child comes home with a dubious book.

I could position myself in a bookshop near the shelf that hopefully houses Losing It and point it out to prospective readers. How long until they kick me out? I know it can work a treat with ‘ordinary topic’ novels, but probably not with sex. And as I said the other day, there is really very little of it in Losing It.

When I read Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden a few weeks ago, I was struck by how sensitively, but graphically, she wrote about the taboo lovemaking. It made me compare it with William Nicholson’s Rich and Mad, which the press have written about a lot more. Presumably because that lovemaking is OK, where incest isn’t.

I’m doing a lot of remembering all of a sudden, wondering why old people believe that young readers will copy any behaviour they read about in a book. Someone I knew had a son aged fourteen at the time Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now was published, and she felt that if her son was allowed to read HILN, he would automatically assume that sex between young cousins is perfectly all right, and go ahead and do it. Why would he? Reading such a marvellous novel won’t instantly change your intelligent child into someone with no sense at all.

Let’s face it. Do young readers even want old people to recommend books with a potentially sexy content? We’re embarrassing.

And did Son clear reading Doing It by Melvin Burgess with me? He felt a strong need to vet it. You can’t let a mother read just anything, can you?

Losing It

There is a certain irony finding Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess sharing an anthology on the subject of losing your virginity. It shows they have both moved on from their little spat seven years ago. Or it’s simply that Keith Gray who has edited Losing It is good at persuading people to contribute. Keith has chosen well, with all eight authors approaching this topic in their own different way.

I hope I don’t sound like some sex-crazed old woman if I say that I really enjoyed all eight stories tremendously. I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again; the short story is a very good medium, and we don’t get enough of them.

Losing It

Although losing your virginity sounds as if it’s only about sex, the truth is that there is surprisingly little sex in this collection. So any old people thinking they can’t possibly be responsible for supplying a book of this kind to their young ones should think again.

The reader sees the issue of virginity from the point of view of the ‘traditional’ teenager of today, and there is an ‘older’ person – two, actually – and there is the historical angle as well as the Asian immigrant’s. And then there is the gay experience, which I found very moving and enlightening, and I hope Patrick Ness will write something longer one day, incorporating this side of love and sex. There isn’t just the one gay character, but interestingly the reader can’t be quite sure who is and who isn’t. Much like in real life.

And I loved Jenny Valentine’s story about the embarrassing old relative at Sunday dinner. It had absolutely everything, and so much humour and warmth. I won’t forget Danny in a hurry, nor Finn, the narrator. (I really must read more of Jenny’s books.)

I’m not sure where on the scale of things Losing It belongs. It’s actually quite close to Doing It, with the exception that it’s a collection of shorter stories instead of a full novel. And it’s got Anne Fine’s contribution, which ought to guarantee its proper credentials. Buy it for a young teenager if you have one, or for yourself whether you are fourteen or 73.

The Midland, the tea and Frank

I’m beside myself with excitement, and that may well be a good place to be. Which will be best? Afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel in Manchester? Or afternoon tea at the Midland in the company of Frank Cottrell Boyce? (And a few others, I have to admit.)

Have long (very long) wanted to enter that establishment and never quite worked up the courage to do so. Yes, I hear you say. It doesn’t sound like me at all. But now, thanks to the Manchester Children’s Book Festival the Midland will be graced by the presence of a real bookwitch. If it looks too grand I’ll hide in a darkened corner, just so I can listen to Frank. There will be a quiz, which I’ll stand no chance of winning, and a reading. It’s the grand finale to four days of bookfestivalling.

I’ll miss Michael Rosen. Story of my life, that. I’ll be touring Fickling county when the festival starts on Thursday 1st July, and I’m travelling through Bali Rai-shire as it continues, with lots and lots of educational events. Carol Ann Duffy is at the helm of this great venture, and you can read more about it here. Carol Ann and Jeanette Winterson will also head the gala dinner at the Midland on Friday night.

Provided all that broomsticking doesn’t finish me off completely, I’ll be there on day three, however, and what a programme there is! Frank, again, Liz Kessler and Cathy Cassidy for all us girls, and Steve Cole for, um well, us girls again and for the boys, too. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman will be getting romantic and historical, which I know they’ll do well. And there is a big discussion on teen lit with Kevin Brooks, Keith Gray, and Sherry Ashworth.

My main fear is that I’ll be so knackered after Saturday that it’ll be hard to crawl out of bed for tea with FCB.

Slurp.

Ten Stations

There’s less to count these days, but I still do it. Whenever I leave a train, or a bus, and especially planes and airport lounges and the like. I count the bags and the people I brought with me. Luckily we only had the one suitcase the time Offspring and I had to jump off a train into a field in the dark in southern Sweden, and Son was big enough to look after it, while I hauled Daughter.

We had a few more items to count, the year the Resident IT Consultant took it upon himself to be in hospital at the wrong end of Sweden, when it was time to leave the country. After sympathising for a couple of days the ghastly witch decided to leave without him, which meant rather more luggage than intended. ‘I’ll pick you up at the airport said neighbour PS’, but I don’t think he had contemplated quite how to move me and Offspring and ten bags/cases through the barricaded-off bit where only taxis could go.

On the cover of WBD book Ten Stations by Jenny Valentine, it says ‘Remember to take all your family when leaving the train…’ Obviously they don’t, or there wouldn’t be a story to tell. It’s a great tale, about losing Grandad and little brother on a ten station tube journey.

Great Bear tube map

It’s Lucas from Finding Violet Park, and his sister, who do the losing. Ironic, when you consider the pains he took to look after the urn with Violet’s ashes in the first book. Not only is it good to re-visit former book characters, but it’s an enlightening story on family ties.

Loved their alternate tube map by Simon Patterson, travelling between Peter Fonda and Arthur Schopenhauer (Camden Town to South Kensington).

Costa children’s shortlist

My excuse is that I was a wee bit busy the day the shortlist for this year’s Costa award was announced, so I let it slip into near oblivion. It didn’t help that the list contains three books that I haven’t read, which means that I have read exactly one book.
So, how can I make an educated guess? I can’t. I loved Michelle Magorian’s Just Henry. It would make a worthy winner. I liked Jenny Valentine’s first book, so Broken Soup is most likely as good as people say it is. Have had the Ostrich Boys on my horizon for some time, without getting any closer to obtaining a copy to put in the TBR pile. And I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never heard of Saci Lloyd and her book The Carbon Diaries.

I need help. What do you think? My witchy feelings tend towards Saci Lloyd, but I’m wondering if that’s because she is an unknown, and last year’s winner was a bit of an outsider.