Let children be the judge


Sarah Prineas The Magic Thief
Quercus 2009 (2008)

With a recommendation from Diana Wynne Jones (‘I couldn’t put it down. Wonderful, exciting stuff’) The Magic Thief (the first in a series with the same name and consequently re-titled Stolen) challenges the reader to dare contradict such a distinguished fantasy writer. Bravely, I’m going to try.

Yes, I too couldn’t put it down. Well, actually I did, but only to catch up on some sleep, but at nearly 400 pages that’s to be expected. The action pulled you along, aided by the almost breathless short sentences of both narrative and speech, and the manageable lengths of chapters, around ten pages on average and broken up by illustrations and change of narrator. The vocabulary, despite the odd Latin-influenced term, is expertly aimed at an audience aged around 10 or 11 and that target readership is the best to judge its success.

But this older reader is not so sure it totally succeeds Continue reading “Let children be the judge”



#bookcheat: literature classic (or maybe classic literature) summarized in 140 characters or less

Do you recognise the following books based on descriptions I’ve tweeted using the #bookcheat hashtag? They’re either familiar classics of their genre or that rather amorphous category, modern classics. (The tag is sometimes defined as ‘we read the books so you don’t have to’.)

Anthropoids adopt orphan, future lord of jungle also English milord. Concrete jungle a challenge, loses heart.

See, it’s easy! Try this one:

Alternate history by lofty châtelain in alternate history. Authentic? Chance, and Dick, will tell.

No? Perhaps you haven’t read the same SF as me. And I do agree that it reads a bit like a cryptic crossword clue. Here’s a work I reviewed recently:

Graphic novel graphic & novel: vigilantes pawns in megalomaniac plot to end all wars. Will it work? Will it hell!

This may find you traipsing all over the place:

Hubby works overseas, then Med cruise with mates before return. Is wifey faithful? Gold-diggers made to bow out.

There, that was a gift. Final one:

Quintessential kids novel, sometimes insular, when beast joins quartet to revive family fortunes.

You really don’t need any clues to solve the last riddle…

A soft spot for ‘Spit, spot’

London houses

P L Travers: Mary Poppins
HarperCollins Children’s Books 2008 (1934)

2014 marks fifty years since the release of Disney’s Mary Poppins, and already Saving Mr Banks (2013) is whetting our appetite for many helpings of a spoonful of sugar. What better time then to revisit the book that ultimately inspired the two films? Undoubtedly P L Travers (who, as J K Rowling was to do, hid her gender behind initials) remains an interesting person in her own right, but here is the place to assess the first of the Mary Poppins books as story-telling, away from the distractions of Hollywood and the larger-than-life character that was Helen Lyndon Goff.

The east wind is blowing through the naked branches of the cherry trees in Cherry Tree Lane — as the blossoms appear before the leaves, something that doesn’t happen until April, this is clearly a cold day in spring. A new nanny appears at the Banks family home to attend to the children Jane, Michael and twins John and Barbara. Why she has chosen this particular family is never quite clear, but what’s interesting is that, unlike the traditional state of affairs where servants apply for a post and, after interviews are given and references taken up, employers do the choosing, here it is the nanny that informs the family that “As long as I’m satisfied” she’ll take the position, as though (as Mrs Banks tells Mr Banks) “she were doing us a signal honour.” Which, as Mr Banks informs Mrs Banks, she might well be, and not just because the economic conditions of the 1930s were overturning the accepted subservient role held by household employees: for Mary Poppins is no ordinary nanny. Continue reading “A soft spot for ‘Spit, spot’”

Two enthusiasms combined

Blaise Castle House
Blaise Castle House

P D James: Death Comes to Pemberley
Faber and Faber 2012 (2011)

In a piece she wrote for the Daily Telegraph (included in the paperback edition of Death Comes to Pemberley)  P D James explained the genesis of the novel in her desire ‘to combine my two lifelong enthusiasms, namely for writing detective fiction and for the novels of Jane Austen’. In evaluating this sequel to Pride and Prejudice consideration must be given to the degree of success she’s achieved with that combination of enthusiasms as well as all those other touchstones for masterful writing. The imminent screening of a BBC serial based on the novel  proves that the public appetite for such a combination is certainly still there  — though from the trailer clearly a lot of dramatic licence has been taken.

The trigger for the action is easily adumbrated… Continue reading “Two enthusiasms combined”