Friday, 31 October 2014

Two Super and Spooky Picture Books

These two picture books have been keeping me entertained recently.

The first one is Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Paquette and illustrated by Adam Record.
Ghost in the House

Ghost in the House is so much fun. It starts with a Boo! and a ghost all alone in a creepy house. Or is he? There’s a noise and a clue to what else might be in the house. 

And so it continues until a motley assortment of things that go bump in the night have assembled. But there’s a final twist as the monsters encounter something that gives them a scare.

But it isn’t really scary – all the monsters have sweet smiling faces and seem very happy to see each other. I love the skeleton, and the monster, and the ghost…well, all of them actually. I can’t help but think that they would make very cute little toys.

The illustrations appeal to me lots. They’re quite simple, but with lots of expression. The backgrounds have some nice textures and I love all the greens and greys.

The words have a lovely rhythm for reading aloud; there’s repetition and words to have fun with, such as growl and groan. They also build up to the twist at the end.

Then there's No Such Thing by Ella Bailey.
Oh, this book is just charming. Georgia is a practical young girl who can find a reasonable explanation for all the strange things happening in her house. She refuses to believe that anything spooky is happening, as quite simply there are no such thing as ghosts. Her little black cat isn’t quite so sure, and we get to see for ourselves who the real culprits are.

I love everything about this book. The story is great; Georgia blames everyone in the house for the mischief. This is another one that comes to life when read aloud. The colours are gorgeously chalky and the pictures have a retro feel to them – maybe a little ‘60s? Anyway, I adore them.

What’s really fun about No Such Thing is hunting out the ghosts on each page. My colleague and I have poured over the pages gleefully pointing out ghosts to each other. Children might like it too, I guess!

Both books are coming along to our family Halloween party later today, and I’m hoping I can persuade Niece Number 1 to read them to us all. If not, I’ll just have to do it myself!

Ghost in the House is from Walker Books and is available in paperback. No Such Thing is published by Flying Eye Books and is a hardback. I bought them both from Foyles.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Read, Reading, and To Read

The week before last I had a stack of books to read that looked like this:
I knew I couldn't read them all in a week, what with working and sleeping and spending ages on Twitter. But two weeks later, and the pile is 90% complete.

I read and loved and blogged about The Something by Rebecca Cobb. It's a lovely picture that I'm very glad I bought.

The Courage of Cowards was an interesting and sometimes moving look at the personal stories of conscientious objectors during the First World War. The stories are partly told through fictionalised dialogue; the historian bit of me did feel uneasy with this device at times but I think the book just about gets away with it. Maybe.

Murder Underground went down reasonably well at Friday Book Club. Everyone liked it overall, and the descriptions of the Underground and boarding houses were very well liked. The insights it inadvertently gave into class and gender norms in the 1930s were also much remarked upon.

The Vanishing Witch is the one I'm still reading, largely because I mislaid it for a while. It turned up when I straightened up the pile of books teetering on my bedside table. More on its merits once I've finished it. 

The Fair Fight is my pick of the pile. What a thing of much marvellousness. I love the eighteenth century, and I have some fondness for boxing (truly), and it's no secret I adore visceral writing. It's got passion and obsession and bodies in all their flaws and glory. Yes, I love this book. This is on the Green Carnation Prize list, and they've chosen well.

Earlier in the week these are the books I gathered together to read next:
I have two spooky picture books for Halloween, which are both amazing. The Sleeper and the Spindle is by the winning combination of Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell. I'm working my way through the New 52 Bats, this is the second Batman bind-up, The City of Owls. The Sick Rose is all about the pictures; breathtakingly beautiful depictions of terrible horrible illnesses. I realised I hadn't finished reading it, so it's on the pile. The eBook, which I don't have a proper cover for, is Lynn Shepherd's new novel The Pierced Heart. It's inspired by Dracula, so it is also perfect for this time of year.

This little lot won't take me long to read, so I do have another couple lined up. And then another few after that...

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Matthew Shardlake is back!

I've been finding it strangely difficult to formulate coherent reviews of late. It's left me feeling a bit tongue-tied on the blog. But, even if reviews are not coming easy, I realised I could still natter about books in a less structured way.

Today's informal book nattering is about C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake books. The sixth one, called Lamentation, has just been published in a handsome hardback.
I love these books. They're set in the Tudor period, a time I've never lost my childhood affection for. They have a wonderful hero in Shardlake, a lawyer trying to behave according to his principles, and are exciting stories that feature a cast of very famous sixteenth century faces. They are a mix of historical crime, mysteries, and political intrigues  - simply put, they are very very good.

I was handed a little sampler of Lamentation at Euston station last week, by people dressed in Tudor costume. It obviously brightened up my journey home, but what a great idea - I don't know who at Mantle thought to do it but I'd happily accept excerpts of books from appropriately dressed folk everyday of the week!

 I have read my sneak preview, even though I now have to confess that I am one book behind. Somehow, despite having a very splendid proof copy, I have not read Heartstone. Part of me feels quite simply terrible that I've neglected one of my favourite series. Another part is more gleeful, because now I have two to look forward to. I'm going to try and fit Heartstone into November's reading pile - now it's in my head I want to spend some time with Matthew sooner rather than later.

The rest of the Matthew Shardlake books line up like so:
RevelationDissolutionDark FireSovereignHeartstone

All of these are available in paperback. Looking at them lined up does make me want to read them again from the beginning...possibly fortunately, all but Heartstone are in the loft so I'll make do with the unread ones. For now.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Something by Rebecca Cobb

The Something

This is another lovely picture book about the joy of using your imagination.

There is a hole in the garden, underneath the tree. What’s down the hole is the subject of much speculation, with guesses ranging from frogs to a dragon.

The illustrations are wonderful; I love Rebecca Cobb’s style. It feels so relaxed and friendly and the colours are soft. All in all they just make my eyes happy (even though my photos don't do them justice at all).

I liked the family in the story, all of whom have their own ideas of what is hidden down that hole - including grandparents and the dog. The main character also has a diverse group of friends, who feature in a lovely page showing the children and their theories about what lurks under their feet.

I definitely seem to prefer picture books with more pictures and fewer words, and the balance here is just right for me. Like The Wonder, the story is told simply but is full of ideas. Also like The Wonder it will find a permanent home on my bookshelves.

The Something is published by Macmillan and is available in hardback. I bought mine from Foyles.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Reading This Week

My wildly over-optimistic reading plan for this week involves five books.

My bedtime book is Anna Freeman's brilliant romp through the brothels and prize-fights of Georgian England, A Fair Fight. This book is on The Green Carnation Prize longlist (more of which to come), and conveniently, was also on my shelves waiting to be read. I'm a hundred pages in and I am truly hooked. It's told from the various perspectives of three main characters; so far I've encountered two voices, and I'm eager for the third.

I'm also reading Karen Maitland's new novel The Vanishing Witch. It's set around the time of the Peasant's Revolt (1381). The late fourteenth century is a fascinating in English (and European) history, and I'm devouring the pages. There's a lot of murky weather in it, which suited this morning's train ride perfectly.

I need to read Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay for Book Club on Friday night. It's Golden Age crime, and looks good. Not that I've started it yet. But I will. Soon.

I'd also like to at least start The Courage of Cowards by Karyn Burnham. This will be my one non-fiction First World War read this year.

And to round things off, I am going to read by The Something Rebecca Cobb. I bought this at the weekend because I love Rebecca's illustrations and, like The Wonder, it has bundles of imagination.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur by Gill Hoffs

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic

This is a long overdue review of a very interesting book. I knew nothing about the subject at all - and I confess to never having heard of the tragedy of the Tayleur before coming to this book. Reading the preface, though, I didn’t feel too bad; nor had Gill Hoffs until a visit to Warrington Museum a few years ago.

It’s surprising how little known the ship is really, given the parallels with the Titanic. Both were White Star Line ships, touted as the best of the best, and both sunk on their maiden voyages. The Tayleur may lack the glamour of the Titanic, but it is a compelling and awful story in its own right.

Hoffs (I do feel a bit weird about using surnames in my non-academic writing, but I’m going with it) has balanced the big story of the ship’s disastrous voyage with the stories of individuals on board and the details of life on-board. Some fascinating lives emerge. I was particularly taken with bad boy Samuel Carby, sentenced to ten years transportation in 1841 for stealing a hunk of sheep’s flesh – well it was a second offence. He’d served his time then returned to England to marry his sweetheart Sarah, get to know his now 13 year old son, and take them back to Australia and a better life.

There were many on-board the Tayleur for whom the challenges of life on the other side of the world were still preferable to the poverty and starvation they faced at home. The social details Hoffs weaves into her book are sobering and enlightening. I found aspects of life on the ship such as the rules the passengers were expected to obey and the rations they received especially interesting. Other things – women’s clothing, for example – took on an unexpectedly deadly cast as I read on.

I also enjoyed the use of good sizeable chunks of primary sources, both heading up the chapters and within them. They effectively set the scene, add detail, and give that firsthand insight that is invaluable. The eyewitness accounts of the chaos as the ship sank are heartbreaking: ‘And now began a scene of the most frightful horror’.

The story of RMS Tayleur is fascinating. The ship was so full of promise. It had a new design, stronger, faster, more luxurious, and a captain whose name was enough to draw crowds. But from the day of the launch there were bad omens and signs that not all was well. Of course, it is easy to be wise with hindsight, but it does seem that some issues ought to have been addressed before she ever took on her passengers. The fact that half of them survived actually feels quite remarkable in the circumstances.

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur gives a good insight into the tragedy itself as well as the wider social background of the period. Despite its terrible subject matter, I enjoyed the book a great deal. It is very easy to get drawn into, and I whizzed through it in a couple of sittings. It is some months since I read the book, but I can still remember vividly certain parts, and I’m sure some images will stay with me indefinitely.

My thanks go to the author and Pen and Sword for sending me a copy of the book. It is available in Hardback and as an eBook.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Wonder by Faye Hanson

One of the things I miss most about being a children’s bookseller are the Picture Books. I miss the therapeutic alphabetising and tidying, I miss choosing and reading the Storytime stories, and I miss the colour and the joy they bring to a day at work.
 The Wonder
I also miss seeing the new books as they arrive and thrusting new favourites at people, imploring them to read it right away. Happily, I know where to turn to get my Picture Book fix - @Leilah_Makes, a super lovely bookseller with an eye for a gorgeous book. Leilah recommended The Wonder and I knew I had to see it. Once I’d seen it, I had to buy it!

The Wonder is beautiful. It’s about daydreaming and imagination; seeing the wonder in everything around you and having that ability recognised as the truly special thing it is. The words are simple and few, capturing the world of this boy with his head full of wonder. The illustrations are just perfect. Everyday life is gently sepia-toned; the world of the imagination bursts with colour. There is so much to look at on each page, especially (but not only) the imagination pages. I’m sure I’ve only just begun to see all there is to see.

I think it’s a lovely story, and the positive message to daydreamers is most welcome. I’d encourage everyone to daydream because who knows what you might dream up.

I cannot recommend The Wonder enough, and not just for children. It properly touched my heart. And be sure to read right to the very end; it gave me tingles!

I bought my copy of The Wonder from Foyles on Charing Cross Rd (where I work now). It’s published by Templar Publishing in hardback and paperback.