Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Doctor Who Seasons 1 and 2 Soundtrack

Murray Gold's Doctor Who Soundtrack CD is, to use the Doctor's favourite word, FANTASTIC ! There are 31 tracks on this CD (as listed below) and there isn't a single "stinker" amongst them. What's more, they're all so beautifully written and evocative that just by closing my eyes, I could see again the scenes for which they were written. I listened to this CD twice this morning and found my heart racing when "Tooth and Claw" and "The Daleks" were playing, and I was struggling not to cry whilst "Father's Day" and "Doomsday" were playing. I also found myself singing along (below my breath since I was at work !) to "Song for Ten" and "Love Don't Roam" from the two Christmas episodes. I especially love "Song for Ten" - it plays whilst the 10th Doctor is looking through the TARDIS wardrobe area towards the end of "The Christmas Invasion" as he's trying to pick an outfit that matches his new self's personality - and I could picture the big dopey grin that David Tennant's Doctor gives to Rose and her replying grin as he walks into Jackie's flat wearing the brown pinstripe suit and long camel coloured coat... Similarly, "Love Don't Roam" conveys all the misery and heartache that the Doctor is hiding over losing Rose as he does his best to save Donna's life in "The Runaway Bride".

Murray Gold has supplied the sleeve notes for the CD booklet and there's a fascinating glimpse into the life of a composer in reading his notes. This CD comes highly recommended if you're a fan of the New Doctor Who series from BBC Wales. (The last time I was this excited about a soundtrack CD, it was Howard Shore's music for The Return of the King !)

Track Listings
1. DoctorWho Theme – TV version
2. Westminster Bridge
3. The Doctor's Theme
4. Cassandra's Waltz
5. Slitheen
6. Father's Day
7. Rose In Peril
8. Boom Town Suite
9. I'm Coming To Get You
10. Hologram
11. Rose Defeats The Daleks
12. Clockwork TARDIS
13. Harriet Jones, Prime Minister
14. Rose's Theme
15. Song For Ten (performed by Neil Hannon)
16. The Face of Boe
17. UNIT
18. Seeking The Doctor
19. Madame de Pompadour
20. Tooth and Claw
21. The Lone Dalek
22. New Adventures
23. Finding Jackie
24. Monster Bossa
25. The Daleks
26. The Cybermen
27. Doomsday
28. The Impossible Planet
29. Sycorax Encounter
30. Love Don't Roam (performed by Neil Hannon)
31. Doctor Who Theme – Album mix

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Book Discussion Group: King Of Shadows

Just a quick reminder that the first discussion for the Scholar's Blog Book Discussion Group begins next Tuesday, with The King of Shadows by Susan Cooper. It's not too late to "sign up" - just leave me a comment on the post linked above and get ready to chat ! I'm looking forward to this and hope that we can have a great discussion... And rest assured, you don't need a degree to discuss the book - just an interest in books, reading and discussion !

Susan Cooper's King of Shadows is available from and from

Bath Festival of Children's Literature: Update

I recently reported on a new Children's Literature Festival to be held in Bath. I can now report that the festival has its own website, or you can email them for more information.

There's no programme of events on the website as yet - but I encourage you to bookmark it for future reference.

The Stone Rose - Jacqueline Rayner

Jacqueline Rayner's The Stone Rose features the Doctor and Rose as played by David Tennant and Billie Piper in the hit series from BBC Television.

Whilst Rose and the Doctor are off, travelling Time and Space, saving people and fighting off bad guys and monsters, Mickey has decided to do some good on his own patch of London and he's been volunteering at the British Museum. Imagine his surprise when one day he finds a statue of Rose in the museum - a statue that is 2,000 years old. The Doctor quickly realises that this means the TARDIS will shortly be taking him and Rose to Ancient Rome, but when it does, they soon find they have more on their minds than sculpture. Whilst the Doctor gets caught up in a search for a missing boy named Optatus, Rose befriends a 16 year old girl named Vanessa who, it is claimed, knows the future - and her predictions are surprisingly accurate. But then the Doctor meets the man responsible for creating the statue of Rose that they saw at the British Museum and he is very interested in sculpting Rose. But why are his tools so well maintained, and why doesn't he have a stack of marble at hand in his studio ? The Doctor soon realises the hideous truth behind the statue of Rose - and in the meantime Rose herself learns that you have to be very careful what you wish for. The Doctor and Rose soon find themselves apparently locked into a series of pre-ordained events that ultimately lead to Rose's disappearance, and the Doctor's false imprisonment then fight for freedom in the Flavian Amphitheatre (aka the Colosseum). Also involved in this story are Roman gods with mystical powers and a very advanced piece of technology which doesn't belong to the Doctor and certainly doesn't belong in Rome in AD120 !

Author Jacqueline Rayner has a degree in Ancient History, so it's a fair bet that Ancient Rome is described with historical accuracy. This was a fun book - I especially liked the final plot twist concerning the statue of Rose, and I thought Rayner has done a good job of portraying Mickey, as well as the Doctor and Rose.

It's also possible to buy The Stone Rose Audiobook, read by David Tennant, and to buy The Stone Rose from

Firefly Quote of the Week

River: Permission to come aboard?
Mal: You know, you ain't quite right.
River: It's the popular theory.

("Objects in Space", Season 1)

* * * * * *

This is the final Firefly Quote of the Week from me - next week will be time for something completely different (and it won't take a genius to figure out where the quotes will be coming from...)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Doctor Who: Monsters and Villains; Doctor Who: Aliens and Enemies

Justin Richards' Doctor Who: Monsters and Villains and Doctor Who: Aliens and Enemies are two non-fiction books published to coincide with the first and second seasons of the New Doctor Who series.

For over forty years, the Doctor battled against the monsters and villains in the universe. Monsters and Villains brings together the best or rather the worst of his enemies. It's possible to discover why the Daleks are so deadly; how the Yeti invaded London; the true secret of the Loch Ness Monster; and how the Cybermen have managed to survive. The reader will learn who the Master was, and above all, how the Doctor defeated each and every one of them. This book provides a wealth of information about the monsters and villains that have made Doctor Who the tremendous success it has been over the years. This is a good book - very detailed and contains a lot of extra information about the "modern" villains and monsters supplied by the chief writer of the new series, Russell T Davies. The reader will learn more about the Forest of Cheam and just who "The Lady Cassandra" was originally ("The End of the World"), discover more about The Face of Boe ("The End of the World", "New Earth"), and more about the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius, home to the Family Slitheen ("Aliens of London", "World War Three", "Boom Town"). There are a wealth of photos included in this book, including concept drawings for the various Monsters and Villains) and script extracts as well.

Picking up where Monsters and Villains left off, Aliens and Enemies (another fully illustrated guide) documents the return of the metal menaces known as the Cybermen - the Doctor has fought them on many occasions during his ten lives. Other foes, including the Sycorax, the Gelth and the Reapers are discussed. Also making a return are the baddies from the Classic Who series, such as the Celestial Toymaker, Sutekh and the Robots of Death. Unfortunately Aliens and Enemies doesn't contain the extra information from Russell T Davies that Monsters and Villains has, and that's a shame, but this is still an interesting book for those who are fans of this phenomenal series as a result of the work of Russell T Davies and his incredible team at BBC Wales, or those who remember watching the Classic series from behind the sofa in their childhood. If you've got a young Doctor Who fan in the family or your circle of acquaintance, I can recommend both these books - I'm sure they'll be fascinated.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Clockwise Man - Justin Richards

Confession time - I'm completely hooked on Doctor Who at the moment: not just the TV show but the books as well, so expect more Who-related reviews.

Justin Richard's The Clockwise Man is one of the earliest of the new Doctor Who Adventures books and it features the Doctor and Rose as played by Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper in the series from BBC Television. And I have to say, I don't feel Richards has done as good a job of capturing the voice of the ninth Doctor as he did of capturing the voice of the tenth Doctor in The Resurrection Casket (which I recently reviewed).

The Doctor and Rose arrive in 1920s London, intending to visit the British Empire Exhibition and instead find themselves caught up in the hunt for a mysterious murderer; someone has been going around killing the servants of prominent Londoners. But whoever is doing the killing isn't necessarily human, as the bodies turn up with marks on their necks that look as if they've been made by a metal implement, not hands. There are a number of secrets hidden behind various locked London doors. Just who is the Painted Lady and why is she so interested in the Doctor ? How exactly can a cat return from the dead ? Can anyone be trusted to tell, or even to know, the truth ?

I confess, this book reminded me quite a bit of The Girl in the Fireplace, which just happens to be my favourite episode from Season 2 of Doctor Who, and I didn't feel that Justin Richards had written as good a story as Steven Moffat did, even allowing for the fact that they've written for two different Doctors - and it's a different medium for which they're each writing.

The Clockwise Man is also available from

Why Do You Blog?

Nancy over at Journey Woman sent me to the Why Do You Blog? survey. It will take about 10 minutes to complete and it's being carried out by a chap named Darren in Vancouver, who's giving a talk called "Why We Blog" at a Canadian Blogging Conference in February. He's collecting information on the reasons why people Blog, so if you don't mind sharing your reasons, head over there and complete the survey.

To encourage you, should need encouraging, one randomly-selected person who completes the survey will win an iPod Shuffle.
Another randomly-selected person will win two Lonely Planet books Micronations and Experimental Travel.
And one person who Blogs about the survey will win an CAN $50 Amazon or iTunes gift certificate.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Century - Sarah Singleton

Sarah Singleton's Century is a strong debut novel and beat off competition from Meg Rosoff's acclaimed novel, How I Live Now, and Julie Burchill's tale of schoolgirl lesbian love, Sugar Rush, to win the 2005 Booktrust teenage prize.

This Gothic tale is set entirely in the house and grounds of the Verga family, the house is called "Century". 12 year old Mercy and her sister younger sister Charity have never questioned their daily routine, living at night and sleeping during the day, and seeing their widowed father only rarely, whilst their house remains shrouded in perpetual Winter. But then one day, Mercy, wakes to find a snowdrop on her pillow. This sign of Spring is a subtle hint at the possibility that they could have a different future. Then a chance meeting with a mysterious man named Claudius who tells her she can see her mother again, sets Mercy questioning everything she has ever known - including the truth of her mother's death. Slowly and steadily Mercy traces her parents' story through the past, travelling back in time to see herself as a younger child, silently witnessing the dramatic events in which Claudius himself plays an enormous part. It's not until she has pieced together the truth that she and her family can begin to move on. But it's no easy task - her father opposes her, grief-stricken still over the loss of his wife. Twice Mercy finds herself locked away in a room in Century, as her father tries to maintain his control of the situation.

This is an excellent tale - intriguing and disconcerting by turns, and with some interesting twists. I confess, that initially I wondered if the Verga family were vampires - but they're not...

You might be interested in checking out Sarah Singleton's website.

Lewis Carroll's Birthday

Lewis Carroll was born on January 27, 1832 in Daresbury, North West England. Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Lewis Carroll took orders in 1861 and lived all his adult life in Oxford, as a Lecturer in Mathematics and Logic at the University of Oxford. The character of Alice in his famous children's books is based on Mary Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, for whom he invented Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland
whilst on a boat trip on the River Thames. If you're interested in Alice's tales, you may be interested in The Annotated Alice: Definitive Edition with Tenniel's famous illustrations and annotations by Martin Gardner.

Friday, January 26, 2007

New Children's Book Festival

The Bath Festival of Children's Literature, a new annual, independent, festival has been announced, and claims to be the largest celebration of children's literature in the UK, outside of those operating under the auspices of a parent, 'adult' festival such as Hay, Cheltenham or Edinburgh.

The primary audience for the 80 ticketed public events, set to take place 21-30 September, will be children up to 16 and their families, although there will be some events, such as writing and illustration masterclasses, aimed solely at adults. Running alongside the main, ticketed events will an extensive schools and outreach programme in the Bath area, co-ordinated by Gill McLay, who left her position as head of Trade Sales at Egmont Children's Books at the end of 2006.

The Festival aims to attract upwards of 10,000 people, with a stellar roster that includes Eoin Colfer and Garth Nix - both in their only UK festival appearances of the year - Lauren Child, Philip Reeve and Michelle Paver. It will take place in a number of venues across the city, from the Guildhall and Assembly Rooms, to the Pavillion and Central Library.

"The children's book publishers have been very supportive," says Festival Director, John McLay. "I'm very excited about the lineup we have so far, and there may even be a few more surprise guests still to come. Local businesses in Bath and the South-West have been very receptive to our plans, so much so that we are now in a position to stage this ambitious 10-day festival without support from the traditional arts funding bodies."

Jacqueline Wilson will be the star of one of its largest events, at the Bath Pavillion on the opening weekend, in front of an audience of 1,000. "I'm thrilled to be back in Bath for the inaugural Bath Children's Literature Festival," she says. "It's such a special place and I'm always glad of an excuse to visit."

The festival has its own website, or you can email them for more information.

Poetry Friday 34

Time for some fun, nonsensical rhymes, I think. The first is by Edward Lear:

The Jumblies

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, "You'll all be drowned!"
They called aloud, "Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
In a Sieve we'll go to sea!"
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
"O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!"
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, "How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!"
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
"O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!"
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, "How tall they've grown!
For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!" And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, "If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve, —
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!"
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And the second is by Lewis Carroll:

The Walrus and the Carpenter

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done —
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages-and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed —
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice.
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Resurrection Casket - Justin Richards

Justin Richard's The Resurrection Casket is the ninth in the New Series Doctor Who Adventure books.

This adventure takes place on Starfall, a world out on the edge, where smugglers and crooks hide in the gloomy shadows and modern technology refuses to work - which includes the TARDIS. The zeg is a huge field of Electro Magnetic Pulses that quite literally puts a dampner on the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor and Rose stranded, for the time being, on Starfall, where the only technology is steam-powered, not electrical.

The pioneers who used to be drawn to Starfall in the hope of making a fortune from the mines find there are easier pickings elsewhere, but a few still come for the romance of it, or for the old-fashioned organic mining. And a few more come in the hope of finding the lost treasure of Hamlek Glint, that pirate scourge of the spaceways - a privateer, adventurer and bandit. His ship the Buccaneer is somewhere lost in the zeg, abandoned by its band of cut-throat pirate robots who had already been sold for scrap when Glint finally decided to retire.

The Doctor and Rose offer to help Drel McCavity (who's not a local dentist) search for Glint's lost treasure, which includes the fabled Resurrection Casket, supposedly the key to eternal life. In return, the TARDIS will be taken out of the influence of the zeg, so that the Doctor and Rose can board her again. Unfortunately for them, not all of Glint's robots were scrapped - and they're determined to find the Resurrection Casket so that they can bring Glint back to life and persuade him to resume his old killing ways.

This is a fun book - Richards has done a good job of capturing the voices of Rose and David Tennant's 10th Doctor - and children will certainly enjoy the piratical theme - especially those children who are also fans of Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The Resurrection Casket is also available from, and as a 2-CD audio book, which is read by David Tennant and includes an interview with Justin Richards (running time 2:30).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Haunting of Chas McGill and other stories - Robert Westall

Robert Westall's The Haunting of Chas McGill and other stories is a collection of eight supernatural short stories. The title story is set before both The Machine Gunners (Review) and Fathom Five (Review). In it Chas has been temporarily evacuated to a local boarding school which is reputed to be haunted. In fact Chas meets the ghost of a WW1 Tommy, who hid at the school and then later hanged himself there. However, Chas interferes in history - somehow and history changes...

The other stories in the collection are "Almost a Ghost story" - about an Abbey which may or may not be haunted by the ghost of a nun.

"The Vacancy" - which is a futuristic SF story that's got quite a gruesome ending.

"The Night Out" - which is a quite sad story about a bunch of bikers.

"The Creatures in the House" - about a creature that feeds on the memories of single women. It's also a story about cats.

"Sea Coal" - which is a time-travel story - also featuring a cat.

"The Dracula Tour" - in which a woman taken on a trip to Bucharest who falls in love with Count Dracula.

and "A Walk on the Wild Side" - about a cat named Rama that can transform itself into a woman.

This is an intriguing collection. I particularly enjoyed "The Night Out", "The Creatures in the House" and "Sea Coal".

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Starlight Conspiracy - Steve Voake

Steve Voake's The Starlight Conspiracy is a thriller with a Science Fiction element for young adults. 14 year old Berry Benjamin's mother recently died, leaving Berry reliant on the generosity of the group of Travellers to which she and her mother belonged, living in their old blue bus. Unfortunately they're about to be moved from their site and one of them has reported Berry to the Social Services, so a Social Worker turns up with the promise of a foster home and a place at a local school. But Berry's not interested. Then she finds a birthday card left by her mother, with a plane ticket to San Francisco inside.

She decides to leave the only home she's known and head for America, but when she nearly steps into the path of a bus, an old man miraculously saves her and, despite being hit by the bus himself and then being run over by a car, walks away unharmed, although Berry's too dazed to notice. He takes her home and she talks to him; when he learns she has a ticket to the US, he urges her to take a parcel to America for him. Berry's reluctant but agrees to go back and see him the next day to let him know her decision. She tells him she doesn't want to take his parcel for him, but he slips it into her rucksack, along with a mobile phone, and two large sums of money in Sterling and dollars.

As Berry is leaving his house, a jogger comes along the lane and knocks her over. She gets away and goes back to her bus, but then some men turn up wanting the contents of the package. Berry heads to Glastonbury (for which she had tickets already), on her mother's motorbike and hides out at the Glastonbury Festival. There she meets Elle, who's two years her senior and has recently run away from his own dysfunctional home. Then the men who want the package turn up and the two of them are forced to make a quick escape. They escape over the Atlantic, but soon find themselves dodging bullets in a desperate race across America to New Mexico. But what's in the package? Why is it so important to these men? And just how did Joseph manage to survive being knocked down by a bus and then run over ?

This is a gripping book that I ended up reading until late last night because I desperately wanted to finish it. I shall certainly be looking out for more of Voake's books. This book is out on March 1 and I received a proof-copy for review from Nikki Gamble at Write Away.

Firefly Quote of the Week

Early: You folks are all insane.
Simon: Well, my sister's a ship. We had a complicated childhood.

("Objects in Space", Season 1)


Yesterday saw the announcement of the ALA awards (the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Printz, etc., etc.), but as I hadn't heard of most of the books that won awards, I didn't get very excited about them. What I am excited about, is the shortlist of Oscar nominations, that was announced today - Dame Judi Dench (whose film and TV work I adore), is up for Best Actress, for Notes from a Scandal (which I've not seen - although it's only just opened here - nor have I read the book !). Mind you, she's up against stiff competition from Dame Helen Mirren (for The Queen), so that's going to be a tough call.

The one category that does get me excited though, is Best Animated Feature Film - and this year's nominations are: Cars, Happy Feet and Monster House. I've seen two of the three (Cars is the first Pixar film I've not immediately gone to see as soon as it opens for about 3 years). Personally, I'm torn: Monster House is a terrific film - quite dark (for an animated film for children) and fascinating. But I adore Happy Feet ! The dancing and singing penguins were just marvellous. To be honest, I'll be surprised if Happy Feet doesn't win it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Minnow on the Say - Philippa Pearce

I reported on Christmas Eve, that Philippa Pearce had passed away. At the time, I had only read and reviewed one of her books - the very charming, A Dog So Small, which I read and loved as a child (despite being a cat lover!). I'm waiting for Pearce's classic novel Tom's Midnight Garden to be available, but in the meantime, I borrowed Minnow on the Say on the recommendation of David Langford (in his award winning Ansible ezine).

Minnow on the Say isn't fantasy - it's the tale of a treasure hunt, set in 1930s England when David Moss, the middle child of a bus driver and a housewife, finds a lovely, if badly neglected canoe bumping up again his father's landing stage the River Say is swollen by rain. He desperately wants to keep the canoe, but his father urges him to find the owner, who turns out to be Adam Codling. Adam's the last of the now-impoverished Codling family who have occupied the banks of the Say for centuries. The only way that the Codling estate can be saved (and Adam avoid being sent to relatives in Birmingham), is if he and his new friend, David, can find the family treasure that a Codling ancestor hid during the late 16th century, just before the Spanish Armada set sail. The boys have only a single clue, a four-line poem, and their canoe, which David has named the Minnow. They spend the summer holiday on the treasure hunt, covering a lot of the local countryside. The book also covers a lot of territory: poverty, mourning, greed, the nature of marriage and of friendship, class relations, village life, and more.

However, you shouldn't read this book expecting misty nostalgia. Pearce's love of village and river life shines through the prose - she grew up on the River Cam in the village of Great Shelford near Cambridge - but so does her experience of the London Blitz and the trauma of World War II. You might never read a more painful account of the ravages of mourning as those scenes in which Adam’s grandfather, whose only son was killed during the Great War, fails to remember that his son is long dead and the boy who shares his home is actually his grandson. Adam's mother died shortly after giving birth to Adam, her own grief for her husband was as strong as her father-in-law's, so Adam has been brought up by his Aunt Dinah. She is a strong character but resigned to the fate that seems about to befall the last of the Codlings, since the treasure has never been found.

This is a lovely book that manages to maintain the suspense through 26 leisurely chapters - I highly recommend Minnow on the Say.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Winter Book - Tove Jansson

Tove's Jansson's A Winter Book is the perfect accompaniment to the earlier The Summer Book (Review). There are 20 stories in this collection, which is aimed squarely at adults, but would probably be enjoyed by older children. The book also comes with an introduction by Ali Smith, and Afterwords by Philip Pullman, Esther Freud and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The collection is divided into three parts: Snow; Flotsam and Jetsam; and Travelling Light - throughout each section Tove ages, so that the first story, "The Stone", features a young Tove, and in the last story, "Taking Leave", the by now elderly Tove is having to move to live on the mainland now she can no longer manage life on the bleak Finnish island she purchased after her Moominvalley books because a big success. Jansson trained as an artist and worked as a cartoonist, before writing the Moomin books in her 30s and 40s. She started writing for adults when she was in her 50s. In one of these stories, "Messages", she simply transcribes some of the bewildering messages that she receives from greedy companies and crazy, each one of whom wants to grab some part of her creation for themselves; one fan writes "Can't you draw me a Snufkin that I can have tattooed on my arm as a symbol of freedom?" whilst a company requests: "We look forward to your valued reply soonest concerning Moomin motifs on toilet paper in pastel shades" (Toilet paper?!)

"Taking Leave", is a short, melancholy, yet beautiful picture of old age. Jansson was 86 when she died in 2001, and I found it easy to imagine her striding energetically across her island until her old bones refused to take another step. In the story, two old women reach the irritating realisation that they have grown too infirm to continue spending their summers on their isolated island. Even worse, though, is the knowledge that "something unforgivable happened: I became afraid of the sea". The initial fury is followed by a calm acceptance and they decide to give away the house, packing up, leaving notes for the next occupant(s) which explain where to find things and how things work, whilst making sure not to explain everything too clearly: "one should not underestimate their natural curiosity." Another writer might have finished the story with a description of leaving the island, or of looking back from the boat for the last time as it heads to the mainland, but Jansson doesn't bother. Instead, she describes an old kite that they find on their last day whilst clearing out the cellar and which carry out into the open air. The wind snatches the kite and takes it away, up into the sky, across the sea, and out of sight, and they're gone.

This is a gorgeous book - the cover is very eye-catching and this is from someone who doesn't tend to take a huge amount of notice of bookcovers ! - and the whole book is packaged beautifully with a number of black and white photos inside.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Write Away Reading Group

The Write Away website is starting a Reading Group for registered members. They've decided to go for a thematic approach each month, with three or more books to read (you don't have to read all of them, if you don't have time) and discuss. Here are the chosen books for the next three months:

For the romantic month of February, our inaugural theme is retellings BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Robin McKinley Beauty (Corgi)
Robin McKinley Rose Daughter (Avon)
Donna Jo Napoli Beast (Simon Pulse)
Max Eilenberg & Angela Barrett Beauty and the Beast (Walker)

To coincide with the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery, our topic for the month is books on a SLAVERY theme. The books are:

M T Anderson The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (Walker Books)
Malorie Blackman Unheard Voices (Random House)
James Riordan Rebel Cargo (Frances Lincoln)
Julia Bell Dirty Work (Macmillan)
Julia Golding Cat Among the Pigeons (Egmont)

In April we will have the first of our Author Focus discussions. We will be reading books by LINDA NEWBERY on the theme HISTORY AND HOUSES

The Shell House (Random House)
Set in Stone (Random House)
Polly's March (Usborne)

April looks like an interesting month - I've got the first two of those three books lurking on my library TBR as I happened to spot The Shell House in the library the day I went to pick up my reserved copy of Set in Stone ! The Reading Group discussions will take place on the Write Away forum, so if you're interested in participating, sign up to the site and start reading...

Carnival of Children's Literature 10

Kelly, of Big A, little a, has done a good job of hosting the latest Carnival of Children's Literature - please take the time to stop by and take a look at some of the interesting discussions, reviews and thoughts that Bloggers have shared from their December and January posts.

Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories - Garth Nix

I first learned of Garth Nix's collection, Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories from after The Creature in the Case was published as a World Book Day in the UK; and it's this story which is the first in the Across the Wall collection. I've wanted to own Across the Wall ever since and I was pleased when it was finally published in the UK. My patience was rewarded too, as there are some fabulous pieces in this collection, each one of which is introduced by Garth Nix.

The other 12 stories in the collection are as follows:

"Under the Lake": A tale based on Arthurian legend told from the viewpoint of the Lady of the Lake, who's less nice than so many of those film versions would lead you to believe.

"Charlie Rabbit": A dramatic war story about hope, faith and survival, featuring two small boys.

"From the Lighthouse": A rather different sci-fantasy story of conquest.

"The Hill": A family story set in Australia about property, inheritance and ownership.

"Lightning Bringer": A horror story about power.

"Down in the Scum Quarter": A parody of the Role Playing Game books beloved of my younger brother when he was a child, where the reader chooses their own story based on options at the end of each paragraph.

"Heart's Desire": Another tale based on Arthurian legend, this time about Merlin and his ill-fated love life.

"Hansel's Eyes": A retelling of the classic tale in a modern setting - and quite macabre in its way !

"Hope Chest": A cowgirl takes on a supernatural cult, guns a-blazing. Garth is a fan of Westerns but as he says in the introduction, he cannot write a story without a fantasy element creeping in somewhere. This was my favourite of the shorter stories in the collection - and together with "The Creature in the Case" made the book worth its price.

"My New Really Epic Fantasy Series": A piece originally presented by Garth at a panel session at the 1999 WorldCon; it's completely tongue in cheek and therefore very funny.

"Three Roses": An interesting little tale about love - completely unsentimental.

"Endings": A tale of sorrow and joy with alternate endings - and another one (besides "The Creature in the Case" - that I had read before as it's in the Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales I read and reviewed last November.

In the introductory note to "Hansel's Eyes", Garth mentions that his mother made him a gingerbread house, complete with a witch made of sweets; for his eighth birthday, she made puppets of all Tove Jansson's Moominland Midwinter characters and a puppet theatre, then performed the book as a puppet play. How fantastic is that ?! He notes that

without the influence, example and encouragement of my mother (and my father, whose collection of fantasy and science fiction books supplied me with reading matter for my most formative years), I would not be the write I have become, or indeed, a writer at all. (p. 272)

If you're a Garth Nix fan, this book is a must-have; if you've yet to try any of his books, then this book is a good place to start - you can dip in and out of it, and The Creature in the Case, although it's set after the events of the Old Kingdom trilogy, is still a good introduction to Nix's worlds. As mentioned before, Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories is available from Garth Nix's website has recently been relaunched and you can sign up for regular news updates. I was pleased to learn this week that he'll be in the UK later this year - I hope he appears somewhere near Oxford as I'd love to meet him !

Friday, January 19, 2007

Poetry Friday 33

I've got an eclectic mix of poems for you this week. First is "Ariel's Song" from The Tempest:

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss'd
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
Hark, hark!
The watch-dogs bark.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them-Ding-dong, bell

I picked this because the second stanza is quoted twice in Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners (which I read and reviewed on Tuesday).

Next is A A Milne's

The King's Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
"Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?"
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, "Certainly,
I'll go and tell the cow
Before she goes to bed."

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told the Alderney:
"Don't forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread."

The Alderney said sleepily:
"You'd better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade

The Dairymaid
Said "Fancy!"
And went to
Her Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a little red:
"Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But marmalade is tasty, if
It's very

The Queen said
And went to his Majesty:
"Talking of the butter for
The royal slice of bread,
Many people
Think that
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little

The King said,
And then he said,
"Oh, deary me!"
The King sobbed, "Oh, deary me!"
And went back to bed.
He whimpered,
"Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!"

The Queen said,
"There, there!"
And went to
The Dairymaid.
The Dairymaid
Said, "There, there!"
And went to the shed.
The cow said,
"There, there!
I didn't really
Mean it;
Here's milk for his porringer
And butter for his bread."

The queen took the butter
And brought it to
His Majesty.
The King said
"Butter, eh?"
And bounced out of bed.
"Nobody," he said,
As he kissed her
"Nobody," he said,
As he slid down
The banisters,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy man -
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!"

I offer this because it was A A Milne's birthday yesterday.

Finally, today is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, so I thought I would link to an earlier Poetry Friday offering for the full text of Poe's poem, The Raven.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Author Birthdays

To my embarrassment, I forgot to check my list of author birthdays and have missed two recently, but have caught the third today ! Here there are, in chronological order:

Robert C O'Brien, author of (amongst others) Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Review), which won the 1972 Newbery Medal and was a childhood favourite of mine, was born on January 11, 1918.

I found out just too late in the day, yesterday, that Robert Cormier, author of The Chocolate War in 1974, which apparently became one of the fifty most frequently banned books in America's public libraries and schools in the 1990s, was born on January 17, 1928. I must confess I've never read The Chocolate War, but having learnt that fact about its banning, I'm curious to read it, just to find out why...

Finally, 18 January 1882 saw the birth of A A Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh. I don't recall reading Winnie as a child, but somewhere I possess a copy of Winnie the Pooh: Complete Collection of Stories and Poems, which I read with great curiosity when I was in my 20s.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Time Runners: Freeze-Framed - Justin Richards

Justin Richards has been writing Doctor Who novels for some time, but I've only read one of them: Doctor Who: The Resurrection Casket (it features the Tenth Doctor and Rose). However, Richards also writes novels featuring original characters and Time Runners: Freeze-Framed is the first in a new series, aimed largely at pre-teen or early teenage boys.

12 year old Jamie Grant's story begins:

"Let me tell you about the day my life ended. I remember it as if it was yesterday which, maybe, it was. Or perhaps it will be tomorrow. I lose track. After all, it was a long time ago."

Initially Jamie just thinks people are ignoring him when his classmates, his teacher and even his own mother suddenly start acting as if he's not around. He find he's fallen off the register, people don't reply when he speaks to them, and he's not showing up in family photos. Only his 5 year old sister Ellie and the mysterious yet friendly 14 year old Anna are aware of him. Anna explains to him that he has ceased to exist. His parents believe they only have one child, little Ellie, and no one else knows him. Anna reveals that Jamie has fallen through a "time break" and is now living outside of time in a parallel world. Fortunately Jamie does discover that although he's outside time, he possesses the power to control time. He and Anna are employed as Time Runners to fix the time break into which he has fallen, but they have to work against the Dark Runners, especially the Darkling Midnight, who, like all Dark Runners, wants to change history radically. Although his aim of having fewer wars is admirable, his means of achieving it is to remove free will from all of humanity for all time, and to set himself up as a global ruler. He wants Jamie to join the Dark Runners as he senses that Jamie has sufficient power over time to become an Adept as Midnight is - and Adepts are very rare.

Thus Jamie and Anna have a race against time to repair the time break that occurred and took him outside of time before it can take everyone outside time - and they must figure out how to repair the time break before Midnight can coerce Jamie into becoming a Dark Runner. Even if they succeed in their task, however, Jamie will still be outside of time, just as Anna is and has been since 1955, so the Time Runners will be Jamie's only family.

You can find out more about the Time Runners series at its website. This book is out in March so I received a proof-copy and was received for review from Nikki Gamble at Write Away.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Philip Pullman Events

I'm in receipt of Philip Pullman's monthly email newsletter (for which you can sign up here - click on the envelope) and this month Philip mentions he'll be giving the annual Richard Hillary Memorial Lecture (entitled this year: "POCO A POCO: The Fundamental Particles of Narrative") at Trinity College, Oxford. The lecture is given in memory of the heroic airman Richard Hillary, a Spitfire pilot, who died in the Second World War. The lecture isn't about war or flying; it's on a literary topic, and previous lecturers have included several novelists. I'm hoping I can make it to this one.

Philip's also speaking at the annual Oxford Literary Festival in March. He'll be doing three events, at one of which he is going to be talking with Adrian Hodges, the screenwriter who made the adaptation of The Ruby in the Smoke for BBC television (which I watched and briefly reviewed. The two will be talking about the difference between telling a story on the page and on the screen, and looking at some passages from the book to see how they worked in the adaptation. This event is one I really want to attend ! Another event at the Literary Festival will focus on the filming of The Golden Compass - but Philip says the format of that one is as yet undecided.

(Disappointingly, the Programme for this year's Festival isn't on the website yet.)

Fathom Five - Robert Westall

It's funny what I find as I'm browsing the library shelves. I didn't know, until I picked it up, that Robert Westall had written a sequel (of sorts) to The Machine Gunners. I say a sequel of sorts because Fathom Five doesn't really allude to the events of The Machine Gunners. Chas McGill is now 16 and looking forward to the long summer vacation from school. One day Chas and his friend Cem find a strange object in the river - it's a large enamel bowl with a cardboard box glued inside the bowl. In the box is an empty cigarette packet, a gold watch with the hands tied together with yellow wires, which lead to a battery and a grey cylinder. Cem immediately assumes it's a bomb and they race away up the beach. However, Chas returns and investigates. Eventually he works out that the cylinder is actually a Morse Code tapper (the device that's used to transmit Morse Code) and then Chas realises that the equipment belongs to a spy. He talks Cem, and his other friends Audrey (who's now a reporter and apparently still "almost as a good as a boy") and Sheila (whom Chas fancies) into helping him to find the spy who's operating in Garmouth. Along the way he nearly gets the four of them killed in two separate dangerous situations, gets into trouble with the police, and inadvertently gets someone killed. But he does find the spy - but even that turns out to be a more complicated situation than he originally imagined.

This is an interesting book and became more and more compelling the further I read. You don't have to have read The Machine Gunners to read and enjoy Fathom Five (probably because in the original hardback edition, Chas was an entirely different character). Westall wrote a third Chas McGill book: The Haunting of Chas McGill, which I'll be picking up from the library on my next visit.