Philip Gwynne Jones

Published by Constable Books

Venice. Beautiful. Intrinsically alive, on so many different levels. Atmospheric with a dark streak that runs throughout its history and lives. An extraordinary city. As many of you will know, my favourite city. A place of peace for me – a place where I’m always happy and content.

Well – this is another in this brilliant series. Venetians don’t have a lot of land for burials. The island of San Michelle which is part of the islands surrounding the city is a place of pilgrimage. A place where the dead can be visited. It is an island that you will go past as you leave the city – if you don’t actually visit it yourself. It is beautiful, in its own way and has many people of importance, buried there.

There is another island though. Sant’ Ariano…

The most desolate island of the lagoon. The abandoned ossuary of Venice…your remains would be disinterred and taken to the island of bones, in the area of the Dead Lagoon, and deposited within its surrounding walls.

I LOVE this series…I hope he is in the middle of the next book…this is the fourth in the series. I need another – well, perhaps at least another four…

HarperCollins UK Publishers Ltd. – HarperCollins Publishers UK

Harper Collins

‘Every book written has been cared about by at least one person,’ Bea said. ‘Even if it’s only the writer. You underestimate the power of stories – as you always have done. No one could ever trace the impact one book has had on the world.’

This is volume three in a series. That said, the rumour has it, that the series will run to seven volumes and 2024! Which is extraordinarily exciting (especially for my Dad, who is a great fan of the books) – and something for everyone to look forward to…which is MARVELLOUS!

Books, these small volumes are really a celebration of good books, good stories, imagination and exploration – even if only through books. It really is a phenomenal series.

This last volume (which I read a little while ago – so apologies for the delay with the review are in order) – starts with customers arriving in Pages & Co and promptly forgetting the name and details of the book that they have come in to purchase. An odd state of affairs, you might think. Except this isn’t so very strange, but the difference between fact and my experience in bookshops, and what is happening in Pages and Co, is that those customers I deal with have some idea about the book – the topic, part of the story, sometimes the illustrations, or just the cover of the book. Often I must know of them as they are nearly always ‘classics.’ Those, however, visiting Pages and Co, can’t really work out why they are there at all… theycan’t remember anything about any book that they might want, certainly nothing specific and in fact seem to think they are there by mistake…

Dad says this is Anna James’ best book in the series. Well, he doesn’t know yet about the others to come…

A book for now, to hide in – especially as ‘real life’ is so confusing, not to say disturbing…

Enjoy….

Darwin's Dragons by Lindsay Galvin | Waterstones

Published by Chicken House

I visited the Galapagos Islands many, many moons ago – and loved it. At the time I had never been snorkelling let alone diving. So it was there that I ‘nearly drowned’ (not quite – actually not at all) – trying to follow a ray that had decided to swim deeper into the depths…and my snorkel filled with water…so I rose sputtering with indignation… I also particularly enjoyed just floating a few hundred yards off from the boat – knowing that my feet, this time, wouldn’t touch the bottom, even if I tried. That was magical. Then made me think of the animals that were living in the water too…

This is a piece of faction – based in fact, with some elements and or characters that are fictional. It is very well done indeed. Whether the eponymous dragons are fiction or fact I will leave up to you. It may be that dragons lived around The Galapagos Islands. If they were to be anywhere, that’s certainly where they would be.

The islands are a fascination, weird and rather wonderful – certainly unique. I like unique places. I love unique animals.

The story of a young boy – a ship’s boy who becomes Darwin’s assistant on The Beagle – helping record specimens and playing his fiddle. When he is marooned on one of the islands things become even more complicated when he realises that one of the volcanoes is beginning to become more active and, what he really can’t believe (after all, they are fantastical animals, not to say fictional), a dragon seems to be intent on hunting him – and there isn’t much cover to hide from the sun, let alone a large and dangerous lizard…

It really is superb. A lovely book and a super way of introducing the Galapagos story with Darwin’s finches and tortoises too…one of which was Lonesome George. I suppose I was one of the last to ‘meet’ him on my trip. He died in June 2012 and he was the last of his species. The picture below shows his long neck and his shell that looks like a saddle…

Lonesome George showing his long neck and saddle-type shell.
Picture taken from: https://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/blog-articles/224-remembering-the-story-of-lonesome-george-in-the-galapagos-islands

The book has gatefold covers, which hide some beautifully designed illustrations – (a montage of Darwinian items), and illustrations at the beginning of each chapter – beautifully done by Steve Wells – it isn’t that often that a cover is as inviting and well designed as this for younger readers.

The Valley of Lost Secrets: Lesley Parr: Bloomsbury Children's Books

Published by Bloomsbury

This is a story about brothers. Two generations of brothers. The second world war, is just getting into its stride and Jimmy and his young brother are evacuated to Wales. A place nothing like the one their father told them they would go to. A place that is alien to them in so many different ways.

People change when you move them – and friends can change and those that aren’t, suddenly can be – this is a story about change and about people, the good, bad and the frightened.

A book about new allies, new friendship, and a mystery, but essentially it’s about people – and how they behave. It’s brilliant – when Jimmy finds a skull, tucked into the trunk of a tree, things take a darker turn.

Brilliant.

This is the official book of the month for January. Who knows how things will be then – but if your local store isn’t open, do order it from Waterstones.com and disappear into another world completely.

We should learn from the past…

Pop! by Mitch Johnson | Hachette UK

Published by Orion Books – February 2021

I have never been ‘into’ Coca Cola or any other fizzy drinks. To me they taste of chemicals and you can smell the sugar as soon as a bottle / can is opened.

This is about the fizzy drinks industry – the environment and about bravery. Funny, bright with perhaps a bit of a warning.

A bottle washes up onto a beach – along with thousands of others (as they do), but this one, this empty bottle contains the recipe for the world’s favourite fizzy drink, just when it has been lost, forever.

The repercussions of this are enormous. You would think the finder would be ‘made’ – would never have to do anything ever again – but there’s that question of greed, of dishonesty and that rather human trait of thinking that the world, the earth we live on doesn’t matter.

This is so much more than a book about ‘pop’ and its consumption and those people hidden within corporations, distant from their consumers. A brilliant adventure story…

Moonchild Archives - Egmont Books

Published by Egmont

The start of this small adventure (beautifully illustrated I might add by Rachael Dean) begins with a young girl sailing on a dhow with her two mothers and her jinni as a storm begins to rise around them. A beginning with the missing jinni sliding and disappearing overboard…

A book of secrets. Bravery and magic. A hero and heroine and two jinni – one of whom is a cat…the other…a fish! Which is BRILLIANT!

I am having a ball with this – and the illustrations really compliment it – a superb picture of our heroine and her jinni dripping wet – reminded me of going out to fetch Pakka in after a storm – and both of us soaked to the skin…though in my case I was so relieved to have her back in my arms that I was grinning…like the proverbial Cheshire….

Not yet finished but definitely one for a last-minute buy for Christmas, or when you are next locked down!

Super.

Maggie Blue and the Dark World - Guppy BooksGuppy Books

Published by Guppy Books

Hoagy shivered as if a mouse had run over his litter tray.

A new author and from a new publisher – to start the new year!

I’m not really into physical violence. I may flap my ears a bit and mutter, but I don’t really believe it gets you anywhere, however when Maggie, at last, responds to Helena’s destructive bullying I couldn’t help but cheer inside, as I travelled to work.

Without another thought in her brain, Maggie punched Helena in the face as hard as she possibly could.

Obviously, there are repercussions to her response, as they should be (after all, long term it doesn’t really solve anything), however – this spike to the story was long in coming.

This is a remarkable story – a young girl living unhappily with her aunt whilst her mother is in hospital is, just a little, different. To say the very least. At least one teacher is not what she purports to be. There is an extraordinary one-eyed cat – and any cat is always a positive in any book, there are rumours and warnings about a local wood and there’s the idea that happiness can be milked and stored…which when you think about it is rather horrendous. Oh – I almost forgot – there’s another world too…

The book ends with the potential that there could be more in the pipeline – this is a super book and if this is the calibre that Guppy Books intend to publish, they should do very well.

A book I’d have said for Christmas, except it won’t be published till February – for which I apologise…it really isn’t my fault.

I am so glad that somehow I have got onto Guppy’s Reviewing list – this came as a wonderful surprise as we struggle to make sales at the end of this most peculiar of years.

One notation I would make – there has been a habit in recent years to combine exclamation marks with question marks. Almost as bad as using two exclamation marks together. It really isn’t necessary. The context will lead the reader to know what emphasis is required for a question asked at a pivotal moment and if it is a rhetorical question – it doesn’t need the exclamation mark… Why this has become the norm for Children’s publishers I don’t know. It has slipped in to this new book and it would be the better without!

That said – perhaps this will be amended in the published book and is just an aberration!

Saving Winslow - Guppy BooksGuppy Books

Published by Guppy Books

I’m not sure I have read a Guppy book before – certainly I haven’t reviewed one of their books. They are a new publisher. This small volume was sent in a box of ‘swag’ to me at work, along with some other titles (yet to be read) and I picked this one out of the pile to read and finished it in an hour and a half or so. It is not a big book, but big enough for some. It just depends on who you are, whether it is being read to you or, if you are reading for yourself, it rather depends on whether you are a confident reader, or not.

Winslow is a donkey. Brought home by Louie’s dad. As creatures often are, it seems. Winslow is not doing so well and he admits that he doesn’t expect Winslow to survive the night, let alone to the end of the week.

This is the story of how Winslow does survive (perhaps I shouldn’t have let on, but it wouldn’t have been much of a book if he didn’t) – and how he turns Louie’s family upside down in the process and nearly gets everyone in trouble with the various government agencies supposedly looking after animal (and sometimes, human) interests…

It is also a story of families. Louie’s brother has joined the army and the whole family, in one way or another miss Gus – whether it be his just lounging nonchalantly against the wall, or in the curve of a cushion, where he used to sit. Louie is aware of the space his brother took up. It is a story of change and the challenges this brings. Brothers are important. Brothers that are not around are missed. As are sisters.

The Reluctant Dragon - Egmont Books

There are those that enjoy a book for its cover. Its paper, boards, its pictures, the story, the ending – and then there are those that love a book because of all these things – the whole package. This is one of those charming books – slim, full of the joy of adventure, a hero, a saint (well you can’t have a dragon without St. George), some sheep and a glorious use of language.

The author, of course wrote Wind in the Willows. The illustrator (that is the illustrator of The Reluctant Dragon, that you should buy), is of course E. H. Shepard. He illustrated the original quartet of Winnie the Pooh books, as well as being the author of the fantastic play Toad of Toad Hall – inspired by Wind in the Willows, and importantly, ‘authorised’ by Kenneth Grahame. Any other play of that name just doesn’t do it.

Various other people have attempted to illustrate this small volume (there are even some editions that have pictures produced by Disney) – but those done by Shepard are nigh on perfect. Egmont have produced a slim paperback – to commemorate the 70th anniversary – good enough I suppose in the general way, but I have to admit to ordering a copy from Ebay. Cloth bound in boards. This edition, though will do to encourage a love of words, of good pictures, of traditional values and the joy of good adventures. A book for the stocking – for everyone of any age.

Buy it, but buy it with Shepard’s illustrations, in paperback or not. Just buy it.  Love it….

Walker Books - Glassheart

Published by Walker Books

A tale of light and darkness. A tale of yearning. Death and the hope of resurrection. A father’s grief, but also a tale of glass, hope, magic and adventure. A dark tale in some ways, but one with humour, hope and light in it. I have always thought that stained glass windows have a magic of their own. It seems I’m right. I have been thinking of replacing my rather dull front door, with one that has stained glass in it – I have a design in in mind, but suspect it is out of my budget. This has encouraged that dream.

A magical story to read as night draws in and, recently, mists swirl. A book of hope – a book for Christmas…

A small review, but none-the-less one to follow.

Buy it.