Archives for the month of: June, 2016

Published by Penguin

I don’t often read adult books; I spend too many hours reading those written for children and young adults.

A few years ago though I came across Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum crime novels.  I’m not sure how many there are in the series now – this though, is the first, and possibly the best – though that is uncertain.

At the beginning of the book Stephanie has just lost her job working as a lingerie buyer, and decides it is worth visiting her cousin Vinnie who runs the local bounty hunter office to ask if his job for an office worker is still available.

Under threat of exposure, (he has an interesting personal life) Vinnie agrees to take Stephanie on as his latest bounty hunter.

The books are gritty. They are certainly not for young adults (at least not from this blog), but they are also some of the funniest books I have ever read. The relationship between Stephanie, Joe Morelli (a local policeman with a history) and Ranger – an almost mystical bounty hunter already employed by Vinnie, is central to the story.

As is often the case the characters are what makes these books so wonderful (and why I’d love to own a Ranger’s T-shirt) -they are all extraordinary: Lula, initially a minor character in this the first of the books, develops into one of the pivotal people in the series – larger than life and twice as gutsy, though with the need to stop off regularly for doughnuts, and perhaps the odd handbag sale. Grandma Mazur is Stephanie’s maternal grandmother – and is quite unique amongst grandparents – willing to try anything and with a hobby of attending viewings at the local funeral parlours. Morelli and Ranger, as mentioned above, Stephanie’s parents and of course Rex. The longest living hamster I have ever come across. He is an integral part of the books. Rex doesn’t do a lot (hamsters don’t on the whole), but he has been known to bite, when necessary…

These cheer me up, when life gets difficult. They are in parts, extremely violent, but to counter that they are also extremely funny. Do read them in order – One for the MoneyTwo for the Dough, Three to get Ready…if you don’t, you won’t appreciate the characters as they develop.

They are American (set in New Jersey) and I have to admit that they are the only American books I have so far loved.

Read them – and laugh.

Published by Chicken House

Remember, remember the fifth of November…

Gunpowder.

Treason

 Plot…

I have just started this book (page 46) and I know its going to be one of the best stories of the year – without any doubt. It has a superb cover, which is extremely striking – and I seem to have managed to download it to this post…somehow…

We all remember the fifth of November and Guy Fawkes. What he attempted to do, and what happened to him as a result of his failure. There are numerous books on the subject.

This story though is set in 1605 and Tom sees his father slip out from their farm to meet a man in the shadows. When he asks who he is, Tom realises this isn’t just any man – this is a papist priest, trying to escape from the authorities and he also realises that his father is going with him to guide him to his next ‘safe house’.

Tom is left to defend his mother and baby brother against the forces who arrive searching for the priest and his father, and, in attempting to protect them, Tom lets out that the priest had been sheltered overnight at the farm…

This period of history was dark, full of treachery, danger, death and murder. A time of distrust. It was a time where when trouble started neighbour didn’t necessarily support neighbour. This was a time when families were split…a time of suspicion.

For us, it makes a wonderfully colourful part of our history. I sometimes wonder though about the priests, hidden in their priest holes…of people printing banned religious tracts on hidden printing presses, and many dying for their faith.

Sadly it seems history is ever repeating itself. It is surprising what is done in the name of religion. Some extraordinarily bad, and some, extraordinarily good. We are a very weird species of animal.

To return to this book – it is a must read. A traditional, well written, adventure story suitable of everyone from 9 or so to…well adult, shall we say.

If this book does finish as its start indicates it will – as a superb story, I will contact Chicken House and ask if they can arrange for Ally Sherrick to come and ‘do an event’ – which would be marvellous…

I must stop writing this now and get back to Tom who has just managed to reach Buck Hall…

 

Published by Macmillan Publishing

This is a fun roller-coaster of an adventure. Three years before the story begins Brine was found floating in a rowing boat without knowing her name or where she came from. Since then she has been working for Tallis Magus – keeping the house clean, cooking, & washing his rather revolting socks whilst trying to avoid him and spending as much time in his library as she is able to do.

The third occupant of this house is Peter, a young fisherman’s son, who Tallis Magus is attempting to teach the rudiments of magic. So far he doesn’t show much potential.

When Tallis Magus plans to send Brine off to work with the island’s miser, to look after his house, incidentally much larger than his, and without a library, Brine is determined to do something about it. The fact that Peter too is about to have his life turned upside down (it is proposed that Peter should marry the daughter, who would then come and live with Tallis Magus), means that the two of them start to plan to escape together and this is the story of this rather buccaneering tale.

This is superb story of sunken galleons, treasure, evil and a most powerful magician, message carrying seagulls, (well you wouldn’t use pigeons at sea, would you?) a lovely ship’s cat and a plethora of other characters…

It is a tale of revenge…and contains, perhaps, the end of all stories…

Meanwhile do remember to buy a copy of this and sink yourself into a pirate-icle (I think I have just invented that word) adventure….

 

Various publishers have produced editions of this over the years. Macmillan though have just published a lovely little hardback – all edges gilt, in their Macmillan Collectors Library collection, with nice endpapers, pale blue cloth boards, with blind blocking on the front and a dust jacket…

This could be my favourite book. It is beautifully written, funny, an extraordinary observation of an English family abroad, full of natural history and animals. It makes me laugh every time I read it and it is a pure piece of pleasure for me. I have several copies. I don’t have one to read in the bath, or to read without too much care in the garden, however, and must buy a cheep copy for that purpose.

The BBC recently did a series based on the volume. The characters were almost perfect, but what happened in the film didn’t bare much relation to that in the book. Which wasn’t to be expected, but don’t rely on what you saw being an indication of what you will experience when you read it.

Should you not be aware Gerald Durrell collected animals from the age of about 2 – and grew up to be one of the greatest naturalists and conservationists of the 20th Century; setting up the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and the zoo on the same island.

This volume is about a short period he and his family made to Corfu when he was aged about 10. It is about the people of the island, the animals, the island itself and of course his family. It is superb.

The animals included in the story include the following:

Roger, Gerald’s faithful dog, who travelled with the family to Corfu. Caterpillars, nameless, who also travelled to the island, transported in a jam jar. Widdle and Puke, two puppies given to Gerald for his birthday…crab-spiders, earwigs, a pigeon called Quasimodo, rose-beetles, a tortoise named Achilles, trap-door spiders, and oil beetles…amongst others, not including the scorpion, that was central to such a wonderful episode in the book that always makes me laugh till I cry.

All of which give a wonderful back ground to the story of Larry, Leslie, Margo, Gerald and of course his mother, Spiro, Lugaretzia and Theodore – and that’s without mentioning Larry’s various friends who arrive regularly and en-mass to add to the confusion.

It is a very English book – and is marvellous.

One day I shall have to purchase a first edition – if I can find one that is signed, that will be all the better.

If you haven’t read this, then, you really should.

 

 

 

 

Published by Oxford University Press

How can I not have written a post about Olga Da Polga in my blog before now? Unbelievable!

Not including the Sawdust family, (the family in these stories), these charming stories are about a very opinionated guinea-pig, her friends Noel the cat,  Graham the tortoise, Fangio an hedgehog, Fircone & Raisin, (Karen Sawdust’s two hamsters), Venables,  a toad who lives in the Sawdust family’s garden and of course Boris, Olga Da Polga’s boy-friend.

Olga’s is a very self possessed guinea-pig and believes she knows everything there is to know about a wide range of subjects. It is important for her to make sure that she is the centre of attention, to make everything exciting and to ensure that everyone (particularly Noel the cat), knows how vital she is in the great scheme of things and to this end she has the habit of exaggerating, just a little.

Her exaggerations get her into various scrapes, some more serious than others; once resulting in her escaping her run to go with Fangio to the local dump, and then there was the time when she fell, and couldn’t move. When life gets a little out of hand, and to attract attention Olga has a habit of making her views known by squealing very loudly – Wheeeeeee! Wheeeeeeeeeee! Wheeeeeeee!

In all the titles are: The Tales of Olga Da Polga, Olga Meets her Match, Olga Carries On, Olga Takes Charge, Olga Moves House and Olga Follows her Nose.There are also various compilations.

These books are suitable as stories to be read allowed, are particularly good for bed-time (each chapter is a separate story), and are well written – as one might expect from Michael Bond. They are also good for those who are becoming ‘fluent’ as they say with their reading…Though, to have the best experience of Olga, they should be read allowed, with the recipient of the story tucked under and arm. When read allowed, her squeals should be made loud and with as much intonation as possible.

These stories are superb – and as a result of Olga’s propensity for squealing…and are, therefore, almost interactive too!

They have recently produced a coloured editions of The Tales of O da P – when I grew up they were only in black and white and in paperback. The new illustrations by Catherine Rayner are perfect – though I still love the originals…too!

Enjoy them!

Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

 

Faber & Faber

Alwyn Hamilton dropped into my branch a couple of days ago and offered to sign copies of this. I hadn’t been aware of it (apart from the very striking  cover), but was happy for her to do so – after all it is lovely to have a signed book.

I picked it up to read as a result and have had a glorious couple of days submerged in a desert world with immortal horses, Djinn, guns, magic, shape-shifters, adventure of the old style (and best), love, treachery, families, bravery, a hero, well one central one, and a wild ‘blue-eyed bandit’ heroine who doesn’t really know who she is, and of course sand.

Everywhere.

An entity in its own right.

A brilliant story of adventure – atmospheric and full of heat, and sand – I can’t not emphasis the sand enough…

Quite extraordinary.

For reasons I have yet to find out, WordPress isn’t allowing me to use the URL’s to down-load pictures at the moment. So this will be posted from here at work (I’m writing this in my lunch hour), and I will add the picture of the cover on my day off – along with some suitably sandy and dune filled illustrations.

Sand is very important in this book.

On searching the Internet for the cover, I have found references to this being the start of a trilogy. If so, that is marvellous. I haven’t quite finished it (page 344 of 358) – and I hope this to be confirmed. Its brilliant.

Published by various publishing houses…

These are exceptional stories with sublime and gorgeous English. Kipling’s ability to colour his writing and his descriptive powers are simply phenomenal. The stories cover everything from the first alphabet, how the elephant got his trunk, the rhinoceros his skin, the leopard his spots, along with the story about the butterfly that stamped and of course The Cat that Walked by Himself. There were a dozen of them and I am always slightly disconcerted by the number of people who have either never heard of them, or, if they have, haven’t read them.

Everyone knows, or ought to know, how the elephant got his trunk – but do you remember the English that Kipling used?

From which story did this come?

Then the Bi-coloured-Python-Rock-Snake came down from the bank, and knotted himself in a double-clove hitch round the Elephant’s Child’s hind-legs, and said, ‘Rash and inexperienced traveller, we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension, because if we do not, it is my impression that yonder self-propelling man-of-war with the armour-plated upper deck’ (and by this, Oh Best Beloved, he meant the Crocodile) ‘will permanently vitiate your future career.’

This one?

Still ran Dingo – Yellow-Dog Dingo – hungrier and hungrier, grinning like a horse-collar, never getting nearer, never getting farther; and they came to the Wollgong River.

In that story you can hear the pounding of the dingo’s feet…as he raced…

From which came this excerpt?

Behind them was the Tribe in hierarchical order, from owners of four caves (one for each season), a private reindeer-run, and two salmon-leaps, to feudal and prognathous Villeins, semi-entitled to half a bearskin of winter nights, seven yards from the fire and adscript serfs, holding the revision of the scraped marrow-bone under heriot (Aren’t those beautiful words, Best Beloved?).

They are poetry in the form of prose and should be read out loud to all children with parents of good taste…actually they should be read out loud to everyone. Regularly.

 

 

Undrowned ChildPublished by Orion Press

I am a little astonished that I haven’t reviewed this superb volume on my blog before – you will understand when I tell you that I must have sold well over a thousand copies of this book – by that I mean hand-selling it to anyone I think would enjoy it.

I received a proof of it when I was working in the now defunct branch in Harrods (I was there for 15 years or so) – and fell in love with it. At that time I had an ‘Account’ on the Waterstones web site and was able to review it:

‘Atmospheric, beautifully written and about Venice…a superb volume of adventure encompassing all that makes a good solid read. Includes ghosts, retribution, death, mermaids, seahorses, bravery…Absolutely brilliant. Read it in Venice if you can, if not, then read it and visit as soon as you can…’

I then organised for Michelle to come to the store for an event, for which I wasn’t in store, however, I know it was a success and that she was very touched as I received a gorgeous bar of mandarin Venetian marzipan (and a signed copy) from her as a result. You don’t really need to know about that though – you are only interested in the book – so my curious friends…

If you have been to Venice, and fallen in love with that aromatic, aquatic city, with its history and stories, then this is the book for you.

That is unless you don’t like the gondolas. I had a customer, once, who said she didn’t like Venice and when I asked why, she complained about the gondolas, as, to quote her, ‘…they moved…’ It was at that point I gave up – I think she is the only customer I have tried to sell this book to, who hasn’t gone away with it in their pocket.

If you haven’t been taken by your parents, or your partner has been,  but you haven’t – then I suggest you do something about it. If your parents have been and haven’t taken you, then they haven’t (in my opinion) done their job properly. There really is nothing like the city, mysterious & beautiful; a gem of a place… If your partner has been and you haven’t. Then that alone would be a measure for me to decide whether to continue with the relationship, or not…

This book takes a nugget of the history of the city and its people and has a glorious piece of fantasy wrapped around it. Michelle Lovric loves the city. She had at one time a small apartment in an palazzo – and has written many books on the history and stories. Her first books about the city were for adults, this was her first for young readers. She used her knowledge of the city and wound it into a world that is both beautiful and twisted. Parts of this are dark. I cannot repeat this enough, but the plot is glorious, our heroine, brave and resourceful, the  mermaids (there are mermaids), are NOTHING like any mermaids you have ever come across, and are not to be discarded as rock decoration – they have attitude.

The language is superb, and is wonderful – colouring the story….

It is an expensive book. Not because of the intrinsic cost (£6.99), but because you will want to visit the city afterwards – to find the places mentioned in the book and to just saturate yourself in the story, and the city as a result of it. The additional costs include: flights, hotel, food (always a joy), a trip on a gondola (if you have never been to Venice, this is a must, but isn’t one of the less expensive experiences in the city), and of course some sort of souvenier… Do not go in the  summer – there are too many tourists. The spring and the autumn are the times to go and remember to take something warm – it can be quite chilly in the evenings…the water is never far away and remember to take with you your copy of The Undrowned Child

It is probably time I revisited the city.

We keep this in the 9 – 12 section of the store. It is true that some of the younger readers in this reading group will love it. Others though might find it a bit much, so for comfort’s sake I have listed this as 12 and onwards…after all the last sentence or so of the introduction are the following:

A Case of Baddened Magic

‘…They found all the bodies in the end, except that of the baby.

Stories flew about. ‘Such a tiny little mite, the fish ate her.’ people whispered.’

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday the 9th of July at 3pm Waterstones, Finchley Road O2, Finchley Road NW3 6LU

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I don’t usually mention Waterstones on my blog – a fact confirmed by WordPress, which has just marked it as a spelling mistake.

I have, however, been concerned about children’s reading since I started selling books and as you may or may not be aware I often advise customers in my branch of Waterstones about books that may be of interest.

In particular I am often asked about books for children and teenagers, who have never come across a book that they have enjoyed; many of whom have never finished one. I also get asked for suggestions for readers with dyslexia.

I often start with discussing interests and what the potential readers enjoy doing. I try and find out if they just find the idea boring, and confirm to myself that there are no underlying problems apart from everyone getting at them to read ‘just one book’.

I talk to them about the books they want to read, against those that everyone says they should. I often temper the needs of the parent, (by now feeling left out and want to contribute), and who want their child to be reading the classics, preferably Homer’s Odyssey, with the idea of achieving the result of having the child read a book and enjoy it first…before we get on to James Joyce and his Finnegans Wake.

Often I will suggest thin books, of a subject matter that they think they might enjoy. Sometimes volumes that are supposed to be for younger readers and I will often suggest Barrington Stoke books.

barringtone-stoke-cracking-reading

This publisher produces books that are thin, and well written. They are also concerned with ensuring that they have good plots and what is more they are designed to make the actual process of reading a little easier. A particularly useful element of their philosophy for those with dyslexia.

On Saturday the 9th of July at 3pm at my branch (Waterstones, Finchley Road O2, Finchley Road NW3 6LU) we are having a representative from the publisher come to talk to anyone interested about Barrington Stoke books. She will also be bringing a selection of books with her for customers to purchase.

This is I think, almost a unique event. I have never heard of them sending someone before to a Waterstones to do this, and it is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Amazingly, not only are they coming with books and a willingness to take up their time, they are also coming with cake – which I thought was a marvellous contribution.chocolate_cupcakes_with_raspberry_buttercream

Do come to this – it is for me rather special. I only started to read when I was eight. Perhaps things would have been different if someone had put a volume like these into my hands.

Waterstones at Finchley Road is very near Finchley Road tube station (just turn left and walk up to the O2 Centre), on the Metropolitan Line. You can also reach us from the over ground – Finchley and Frognal Station is just up the road (turn right out of the station and walk down to the O2 Centre).

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There is also a large car park behind the centre, run by Sainsbury’s – for which there is a charge (though if you are there for under 2 hours you can visit for free if you spend £10 in their store). If coming towards London, the store is on the right hand side of Finchley Road, and the turning is before the centre, if coming from London, it is on your left and the turn for the car park is just after.

Do come – it would be lovely to see you!

unbecoming-coverPublished by David Fickling Books

This was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. Katie is trying to find out who she is and what she wants. She has a secret that she is not sure what to do with. Her father has disappeared and her mother is becoming more and more controlling. Her younger brother has issues too, and out of the blue her grandmother arrives into the family circle suffering from a progressive form Alzheimer’s. A time grenade walking into Katie’s family.

This is someone Katie has never met, never been introduced to and it seems both she and her mother have secrets too. What happened to her great aunt and who is this woman who claims to be her estranged grandmother? What happened between her mother and this woman? A complicated story about relationships, responsibilities and families. It is also the story of a young girl learning to take on more than she thought she could, who begins to investigate her history, her mother’s and her grandparent’s and in the process begins to find out exactly who she is and what she wants from life.