Thursday, November 30, 2006

Into the Woods - Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner's Into the Woods is an interesting tale about three sisters that incorporates a host of familiar fairy tale elements (and numerous other pop culture references) that are used in interesting ways.

The story is both a quest and a rescue, although the two often merge, double up and split apart again. Aurora (almost 16), Storm and baby Anything Eden are almost-orphans (their mother died after giving birth to Anything and their father has disappeared to who-knows-where). The three live in a dilapidated manor house called Eden End. The villain of the piece is a man called Dr DeWilde, who is usually accompanied by at least half a dozen wolves and who needs a constant supply of plump children to work in the underground gemstone mine beneath Piper's Peak. His assistant in acquiring such children is a witch named Bee Bumble, who lives in rather more upmarket version of the gingerbread house. She finds children for DeWilde and fattens them up so that DeWilde can enslave them.

Storm encounters a boy named Kit, who has a splinter of ice in his heart (making him akin to Hans Christian Andersen's Kay). Kit's quest is to get his hands on a magic pipe bequeathed to Storm by her dying mother. Kit is working, sometimes reluctantly, for DeWilde - although he helps the two older girls on more than one occasion...

The girls' great-grandmother is an ogress who, in common with so many post-modern monsters (or so it appears), turns out to be completely hopeless at being bad. A key part of her job description involves eating children, but she's actually a strict vegetarian with a penchant for jelly babies (which she eats feet-first to stop them running away !), who wants nothing more than to end her days in the sunshine-filled garden of Eden End.

The key part of the story involves DeWilde's nefarious attempts to get Storm's magical pipe from her since he cannot take it from her by force without it burning him, he must either be given it freely (and with love) or win it from Storm. DeWilde is the Pied Piper and wants the pipe for himself as it contains great power - it can persuade anyone who hears it to do exactly what the player most wishes for or wants.

To accompany Gardner's intertextual tale are some funny and clever drawings by Mini Grey, for example: the illustratation of the books that DeWilde has on his shelves includes I Was a Rat by one P Pullman and the collected works of Browning !

This book, if it is about one thing in particular, is about the way in which an appetite, whether for sweets, stories, love or home, can send one off on adventures that lead, quite often, back to the place where the characters (and the reader) first started. There's a hint too, that this book may have a sequel - the words "The End" are followed by a question mark, and I'd be interested to see if Gardner could sustain the same intertextual mix for a sequel.

Into the Woods is out in the US in June 2007.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

New Permanent Gallery for Children's Illustration

The Illustration Cupboard, Britain’s only specialist dealer in contemporary book illustration, last week opened a brand new gallery space in central London. The new space is dedicated to exhibiting and selling original artwork by more than 100 different artists, and is the first of its kind. With exhibition space on three floors, this central London gallery will display a constant and revolving programme throughout the year of single artists shows, specialist events, guest exhibitions from around the world, family afternoons and author signings.

The Illustration Cupboard provides a unique opportunity for collectors and enthusiasts to acquire original artwork by many best selling and internationally acclaimed artists, as well as the chance to purchase signed first edition books and limited edition prints. The Illustration Cupboard was established in 1995 by John Huddy, a former specialist in Old Masters who trained at Christie's, St James's, and who came to illustration through a close family connection in publishing. More and more people are appreciating the value of modern illustration both as an investment and something that can be passed from generation to generation.

The Illustration Cupboard gallery will be at 22 Bury Street, London SW1 with opening hours as follows:

Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm
Thursdays 10am to 7pm until Christmas
Saturdays 11am to 5pm until Christmas

You will find more information on the gallery's website (which is Flash enabled).

The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral - Robert Westall

Robert Westall's The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral is actually two supernatural stories in one volume. The titular tale is set in the early 1990s, and is a first-person narrative which contains a fair amount of Northern English dialect. The story is recounted by Joe Clarke, a steeplejack who agrees to work on the restoration of the southwest tower of Muncaster Cathedral. As he works, he senses in the very stonework of the tower itself, a sinister force that appears to emanate from one extra demonic-looking gargoyle. Joe's concerns are heightened when he has a nightmare about his eight year old son, Kevin, being trapped up the tower; the nightmare wakes him, screaming in his bed. The next night, Joe's fears are confirmed when Kevin sleepwalks to the tower, but is picked up by the police as he's only wearing his pyjama top. He's taken to the hospital where he's heard speaking in medieaval Latin, although he's never learnt the language, then after he wakes up, he's kept in for a few days observation. In the meantime, Joe and his mate Billy continue their work on the tower, and Joe starts digging into the history of the tower, talking to both the local museum curator and a local vicar, the Rev. Morris, whom Joe initially despises as one of the "happy-clappy" sort. Whilst Joe and Billy are working on the tower, they find the body of another little boy, and Joe realises that something really sinister is going on. He is convinced that Kevin woke up because the tower had found itself another victim.

Joe discovers that the demonic gargoyle on the south west tower looks like the master mason responsible for getting the tower built in the 14th century, and his worries persuade the vicar to do some more investigating. In the meantime, after Kevin is allowed to go home from the hospital, he attempts to go to the tower again, but this time his mum and dad manage to stop him from getting out of the house, and they tie him up and get him into the car to take him to Joe's sister-in-law in mid-Wales. Once they get Kevin across the River Severn, he comes out of his trance; Joe realises that Black Magic is at work when they start to head back home and Kevin goes back into a trance the minute they re-cross the river into England.

With Kevin safely away in Wales, Joe, together with a grumpy Detective-Sergeant named Allardyce and the Reverend Morris, goes through the cathedral's history and establishes just what Jacapo Mancini of Milan did to keep the tower up against the power of the "serpent in the sand" (an underground spring) that kept making the foundations give way as it was being built. The three of them find the knowledge that Joe needs to destroy the power of the bloodthirsty gargoyle for once and all.

The second story, Brangwyn Gardens, is set in London in 1955, where student Harry Shaftoe finds a girl's wartime diary and a photograph in the attic of his lodgings in Brangwyn Gardens. He becomes obsessed with the girl, whose diary reveals that she longs to find a dark and dangerous man somewhere in the Blitz. He convinces himself that she is dead, but he hears her talking with her friends, smells her scent in the house, and even hears the noise of the Blitz outside the house. Harry becomes mesmerised and longs to satisfy her remorseless appetite for a man, but how far can he go without being lost in the past ?

Of these two tales, the first was by far the more chilling for me, whilst I guessed reasonably early on, just what was going on in the second tale.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

YA Author bemoans role of adults in YA fiction

The The UK SF Book News Network carries an interesting piece about the role of adults in YA novels. First time YA author, Jay Amory, comments:

"It's the adult characters! They're only there to be ignored. They introduce the young protagonist into the action then step back and play no further part, except maybe at the end. That doesn't strike me as true. Drama-wise, it helps to have your teenage heroes and heroines adrift for a while, developing their skills and learning to fend for themselves, but not for the entire book. YA authors do everything they can to remove grownups from the mix, but that, to me, hits an unrealistic note, and I prefer a bit of realism in my fantasy."

Amory finds J K Rowling's Harry Potter books, to be a prime example of this problem:
"Dumbledore is presented as this godlike, nearly omnipotent figure. He always knows what's going on. Yet in each book he leaves Harry to stumble and bumble along and get into dreadful, life-threatening scrapes for several hundred pages, then emerges at the end to resolve everything, literally with a wave of his wand. It's unfair, to say the least. He ought to pitch in right at the start. If he truly cared about Harry, he would. In fact, someone should report Dumbledore to the education board for cruelty. I'd say Harry's Muggle rights are being infringed!"

In Amory's The Fledging of Az Gabrielson, the first volume in his Clouded World series, the teen hero is in more need of help than most teen heroes.
"Az is a kid who's been born in an environment where everyone has wings … except him," Amory says. "In effect, he's disabled. He can't fly, and the sky-cities his people, the Airborn, inhabit are designed for those who can. He is looked on as a freak and somewhat resented by certain members of his race. This is the obstacle he's had to overcome all his life – until he gets recruited by the Airborn leadership for a mission, one for which he is uniquely suited. The trouble is, Az has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his winglessness, understandably. Not only does this make him a reluctant hero, it puts him at odds with everyone around him, especially the adults."

You can read the full story at the link above.

Do readers of YA fiction agree with Amory that adults should be more involved in YA novels ? Or will it put off the readers at whom the books are marketed ?

Blog Logo

I'm toying with the idea of adding a logo to my Blog, and have come up with a couple of designs. I'd be interested to know what people think of them - do you prefer one more than the other, or just dislike them both ? The font style of the second one will look familiar to Buffy fans - it's called "Buffied" !

(I'm not quite sure why the first one is coming out so small - it's actually bigger than the second one when viewed in my photo editing program !)

Stones of Abraxas - K Osborn Sullivan

K Osborn Sullivan's Stones of Abraxas was rather disappointing. Before reading it, I had seen a review which revealed that unlike most children's quest fantasy tales, the two protagonists go off on a magical quest and their parents go too. I had high hopes that it would prove to be a subgenre-busting debut novel, but it was not to be.

David Stanhope is 12 years old and about to start the long summer vacation. He enjoys squabbling with his 14 year old sister, Amanda; they live in the suburbs of Chicago with their parents. His mother is the head librarian at his middle school and his father is the shop teacher at the high school. We're told this, and a great deal more about David, his family, friends, and neighbours in the first chapter of Stones of Abraxas, but most of the information there proves irrelevant as it's barely mentioned again, which is frustrating. Instead, whilst the children are helping their mother to find their camping gear (their father is at an out-of-town teacher's conference), in preparation for spending a month at their cottage that's badly in need of repair, they find a large ruby on a chain, which it turns out to have unexpected powers. It transports them to an alternate world, known as Abraxas, where different species control different-coloured Stones. If the Stones of Abraxas are joined with a large golden shield, then the evil magician, Adrian the Deceiver, will use them to make him invulnerable. At this point, I nearly stopped reading, Whoever heard of an evil magician named "Adrian" ? Sullivan invented some quite extraordinary names, so why not use one of them for the evil magician ? Was she trying to make the point that even the mundane can be evil ? I don't know, but I do know that I could not take seriously a bad guy named Adrian as I kept thinking of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole !

I also could not see the point of the children's parents coming to Abraxas with them, since both of them largely ignored their children in order to attend meetings of the Shield Council, who are desperate to find ways of stopping Adrian from acquiring the Ruby, or else they reverted to their Terran selves, with Dad roaming around looking for the Abraxan equivalent of electronic bugging devices, and Mom spending hours in the library, looking for a book that explained how to destroy the Stones without destroying both the worlds. The adults are worried as it's clear there's a spy in Annwyn Castle (and the spy was flagged up so far in advance I'd have been more surprised if the person who was unmasked had been someone else), but the children are still allowed to roam around with whomever they choose and wherever they please, with the result that they nearly get themselves killed on occasion.

I realise this is Sullivan's first book (she's planning a series of five books set in this world) and that first books are rarely brilliant, but I was disappointed that it didn't live up to its potential. I've read some brilliant books this year, several of them Cybils nominations, that have gripped me from start to finish, and left me desperate for more, but this book was not one of them. Of course, I'm just one reader, and other readers may find much to enjoy in this book, so don't let my disappointment with it put you off trying it for yourself. I really hope that Sullivan's later books live up to the potential of this one.

Firefly Quote of the Week

Zoe: Sir, I know she's unpredictable, but I don't think she'd harm anyone.
Jayne: Butcher's knife!
Zoe: Anyone we can't spare.

("Objects in Space", Season 1)

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Edge of the Forest - November issue

The November edition of The Edge of the Forest is now online. Here's a quick run down of what's over there this month:


In addition to this, there are reviews in all categories — from Picture book to Young Adult.

The Kid Picks this month is actually Teen Picks as Little Willow talks books with some high school students.

Don't forget to subscribe to The Edge of the Forest with the Subscribe feature. Just enter your name and email address and you will receive notification of when each new issue is published.

The Edge of the Forest will return December 18 with our final issue for 2006.

My Swordhand Is Singing - Marcus Sedgwick

From the title onwards, Marcus Sedgwick's My Swordhand is Singing is a poetic tale set in the isolated, hostile environment of the forests of seventeenth century Romania. It tells the story of the woodcutter Tomas and his teenage son, Peter, who are outsiders in the village of Chust. The pair cannot seem to find a place to settle, although they have spent longer in Chust than anywhere else before, and Peter is starting to put down some roots, beginning a tentative romance with Agnes, the daughter of the draper. However, Tomas is keeping secrets from his son (such as what is hidden in the long wooden box that Tomas hides under his mattress), and strange and menacing things are happening in Chust: a man who died recently in mysterious circumstances is said to be visiting his widow at night, and she is looking pale and weak as a consequence. Something is very, very wrong in Chust.

In an author's note, Sedgwick notes that there are many old vampire legends, which all tell different stories, some of them contradicting others. In some of the legends, the undead are the fang-toothed vampires of Hammer Horror movies, whilst in others they are more like zombie flesh-eaters, and in still others they are werewolves. Sedgwick explains that My Swordhand Is Singing is inspired by all these varied and ancient Eastern European legends of vampires, and combines them them to make a new retelling.

Sedgwick writes with a concise precision that still allows for poetic expression, such as this:

There was nothing for Tomas now.
Not the singing.
Not the square.
Not the dead.
Not even Sultan.
Just the sword, that flew so fast that the air itself was cut in two.
But the hands grasped and grappled and there were too many. He was pulled from Sultan's back landing clumsily in the mud.
From a seemingly vast distance, he heard a cry.
Peter. It was his son, Peter, sprinting to be beside him in a moment. Dimly, Tomas saw Peter snatch the sword from the ground and begin to swing it wildly about him. The hostages [vampires] faltered, shocked by the fluid energy of the boy, by his strength.
Tomas' eyes were closed, but in his mind he could see Peter twisting and stroking the blade from side to side.
'That's it,' he whispered. 'That's it. Feel it.'
In his heart, he hread Peter's reply.
'Yes, Father. My swordhand is singing.' (pp. 187-88)

Sedgwick doesn't waste words as he paints a chilling Gothic picture of the fight between good and evil. My Swordhand Is Singing is tense, unnerving and beautifully structured so that every element is woven into the tale in a seamless manner. This tale features love, courage, regret, loss, and redemption, plus a strong dose of the supernatural. This is definitely one of the best books I've read this year.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Flushed Away movie review

One of my local cinemas was previewing Flushed Away the new Aardman Animation/Dreamworks CGI movie this weekend, so I snuck away from the Cybils longlist for a couple of hours to go and catch the last preview before the film opens on Friday. And as I'd expected of the Oscar-winning Aardman, this film was a joy to see. The movie tells the story of pampered pet rat, Roddy (Hugh Jackman), who is flushed down the toilet of his palatial Kensington home by smart sewer-rat, Sid (Shane Richie) and ends up in Ratropolis. There Roddy meets Rita (Kate Winslet), an enterprising scavenger who works the sewers in her faithful boat, the Jammy Dodger. Roddy immediately wants out, or rather, up; Rita wants to be paid for her trouble; and, speaking of trouble, the villainous Toad (Ian McKellan) - who royally despises the rats - and wants them iced... literally. The Toad dispatches his two hapless hench-rats, Spike (Andy Serkis) and Whitey (Bill Nighy), to get the job done but when they fail, the Toad has no choice but to send to France for his cousin - that dreaded mercenary, Le Frog (Jean Reno).

I hardly stopped laughing from start to finish whilst watching this film. From the opening, where Roddy is looking in the wardrobe for an outfit to wear and discards a wizard's outfit (referencing The Lord of the Rings in which Ian McKellan played Gandalf), a blue and yellow shirt (worn by Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman in the movies, in the comic), and a shirt and green knitted sleeveless sweater (as worn by Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit films made by Aardman), through the orange fish who asks Roddy: "Have you seen my Dad" (referencing Finding Nemo, made by rival animation company Pixar), to the Toad opening his freezer full of enemies and do-gooders encased in blocks of ice, including a rat dressed as Han Solo (referencing Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back). Then there are the amazing singing slugs, who provide sound effects, spooky horror-style music, and emotional ballads as appropriate - and which promoted the last line of the credits to read "No slugs were a-salted in the making of this film."

Then there are the various chases, including one which features the Toad's hench-rats riding egg-beaters down the sewer, one of whom is stopped by a packet of Instant Whip...

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle - Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibboton's The Beasts of Clawstone Castle is a ghost story with a difference. Madlyn and Rollo are sent by their parents to stay with their Great Uncle George and Great Aunt Emily at Clawstone Castle. Despite their reluctance to leave London, the children soon fall in love with both the Castle and its rather eccentric, penniless inhabitants. Sir George is rather grumpy and limps; his sister Emily is a rather mousey, timid woman, whilst Cousin Howard is positively reclusive and won't talk to anyone whom he has not known for at least 20 years and he hardly ever leaves his library anyway. But, the children are most enchanted by the Cattle of Clawstone Park, a herd of rare and beautiful beasts, who are pure white and completely wild. No one knows where they originally came from, but the owners of Clawstone Castle have always protected them - it's their family duty, even though it's very expensive. Whilst the castle continues to crumble away, Madlyn and Rollo devise a money-raising scheme that will ensure far more visitors on Open Days. The pair, along with Ned Grove, the son of the housekeeper at the Castle, they interview a number of ghosts who include a Bloodstained Bride, Mr Smith the one-eyed skeleton, an aristocrat whose heart is constantly being gnawed by a rat, an Indian girl who was accidentally sawn in half for real as part of a circus magic act, and a disembodied pair of dancing feet. Together they turn Clawstone into a genuine haunted house, but, as the money begins to roll in, the ruthless Lord Trembellow, who was hoping to see Clawstone Castle go out of business so that he could buy the land for building houses, is plotting to carry out a sinister scheme. Trembellow's own place, Trembellow Towers, becomes less popular as the popularity of Clawstone Castle increases, so he puts in motion his plan which threatens the very existence of the fabled Beasts of Clawstone Castle. It's up to the three children and their new ghostly friends to save them, if they can...

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle is also available from

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Cybils - the SF & Fantasy long list

It occurs to me that I've been remiss in not yet posting the full long list of the Cybils nominations for the SF and Fantasy category. So here it is:

A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve
Abadazad: The Road to Inconceivable by J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Ploog
Agent Boo: The Littlest Agent by Alex De Campi
The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher by Bill Harley
Anatopsis by Chris Abouzeid (My Review)
Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
AutumnQuest by Terie Garrison
Avielle of Rhia by Dia Calhoun
The Beast of Noor by Janet Lee Carey
The Beasts of Clawstone Castle by Eva Ibbotson (My Review)
Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce
Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup (My Review)
Braced2Bite by Serena Robar
Changeling by Delia Sherman
Charlie Bone And The Hidden King by Jenny Nimmo
Corbenic by Catherine Fisher (My Spoiler Review)
Death of a Ghost by Charles Butler (My Review, My Spoiler Review)
Devilish by Maureen Johnson
Dream Spinner by Bonnie Dobkin
Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton (My Review)
Enemies by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye by Kaza Kingsley
Evil Star by Anthony Horowitz
The Eye Pocket: The Fantastic Society of Peculiar Adventurers by E J Crow
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
The Fetch by Chris Humphreys
The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon
Gideon: The Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer (My Review)
Gilda Joyce, and the Ladies of the Lake by Jennifer Allison
Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
Gossamer by Lois Lowry
Hellbent by Anthony McGowan
Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow (My Review)
Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen
High School Bites: The Lucy Chronicles by Liza Conrad
Homefree by Nina Wright
Horns & Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson (My Review)
Horse Passages by Jennifer Macaire
Into the Woods by Lyn Gardner
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Larklight by Philip Reeve (My Review)
Last of the Wilds by Trudi Canavan
The Last Days by Scott Westerfield
The Last Dragon by Silvana de Mari
The Legend of Zoey by Candie Moonshower
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (My Review)
London Calling by Edward Bloor
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
The Lurkers by Charles Butler (My Review)
Magic Lessons by Justine Larbalestier
Monster Blood Tattoo: The Foundling by D M Cornish
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones
Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne Duprau
Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud (My Review)
Pucker by Melanie Gideon
Quest for the Dragon Stone by Ami Blackford
The Ranger's Apprentice: The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan
River Secrets by Shannon Hale
Samurai by Jason Hightman
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (My Review)
Septimus Heap #2: Flyte by Angie Sage
Shadow in the Deep by L B Graham
The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu
Silver City by Cliff McNish
Sir Thursday by Garth Nix (My Review
The Sisters Grimm: The Problem Child by Michael Buckley
The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 by PJ Haarsma
Stones of Abraxas by K Osborn Sullivan
The Summer King by O J Melling
Sword of Anton by Gene Del Vecchio
Temping Fate by Esther Friesner
The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore (My Review)
Travels of Thelonious by Susan Schade and Jon Buller
Undine by Penni Russon
Voices by Ursula Le Guin (My Review)
Wabi by Joseph Bruchac
The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (My Spoiler Review)
Wolfproof by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Wuthering High by Cara Lockwood

You can definitely expect reviews of the following books (so long as the review copies arrive !): Devilish, Evil Star, The Fetch, Flyte, Here, There Be Dragons, Into the Woods, Peter Pan in Scarlet, Silver City, The Stones of Abraxas, Temping Fate, and Wolfproof.

Larklight - Philip Reeve

Despite the popularity of his "Hungry Cities Chronicles", I'd never read anything by Philip Reeve until this week when I picked up Larklight subtitled: "A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space." Art Mumby and his older sister, Myrtle, are proud citizens of the British Empire, which in 1851 has extraterrestrial territories such as the Moon, Mars and Jupiter, who live with their father in Larklight, a large rambling house that is on an orbit in remote space. On the morning the story starts, a letter arrives informing Art's father that a Mr Webster is arriving. Unfortunately, Mr Webster is an outsized white spider who, with his spider horde, sets in motion an adventure that takes the squabbling siblings across the universe to battle the forces of evil. The spiders, who are the First Ones (the first sentient beings of the universe), want the key to Larklight so that they can use it to destroy the Empire and return to power across the universe. Art and Myrtle, believing their father to have died at the claws of the spiders, escape their home, only to be rescued by the notorious space pirate Jack Havock. His ship sails across the lunar sea with its crew who include a human-sized blue lizard named Ssilissa (Sil for short), a gigantic land crab named Nipper, two be-tentacled twin beings, Squidley and Yarg. Art narrates this tale, but when he and his sister get separated, readers are regaled with Myrtle's prim and proper diary entries.

Reeve's prose has a cinematic quality that describes his fantastic universe whilst also conveying the Victorian sensibility. There are also some very funny references to famous authors, such as Dickens, and a line that is pure Star Trek: "I cannae do it, Captain. I'm an alchemist, not an engineer." (Echoing both Scotty's "She cannae take any more Cap'n" and Bones' "I'm a doctor, not a ..." !)

Larklight is available from, and apparently Warner Brothers are going to adapt the book into a film, according to this April news story.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Poetry Friday 25: Remembrance 4

This is the final Poetry Friday devoted to poems of Remembrance. The first is Siegfried Sassoon's rather bitter, post-War poem:


Have you forgotten yet?...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same-and War's a bloody game...
Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz-
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench-
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack-
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads-those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?...
Look up, and swear by the slain of the war that you'll never forget!

March 1919.

Carola Oman was seventeen when the First World War began and, on leaving school at eighteen, she joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse, serving on the Western Front from 1916 to 1919. The majority of the poems in her 1919 collection, The Menin Road and Other Poems, are documentary and elegiac in character, with many of them focused on methods of travel. The ship and the troop train, as agents of departure, are powerful symbols for many women war poets, with the movement of new recruits and soldiers on leave, or the transit of the wounded, providing a strong contrast to the troops entrenched in the stalemate of the Western Front.

The Lower Deck

Into the harbour now the boat has come.
                 They bawled for passports from the smoking-room.
Darkness upon the lower deck lay dumb
                 While a few elbowed through the crowded gloom.

The canvas flapped, and a blank face or two
                 Fathomed a laugh; till through the silence came
A thresh of waters; and thick blackness drew
                 Away . . . and a bright boat passed like a flame.

Rowdy music, song and shout,
'It's the leave-boat goin' out
Passin' us they are,
Goin' 'ome,
Goin' 'ome'. . . .

The murmur drifted like a dream
Mouth to mouth - - a sudden gleam - -
Till the voices died afar,
                 Till the thresh of waters drowned
All the sounds to a single Sound.

Boat passed boat. And then again
Came sudden vision, splendid pain.
These were my sons. Ah, who shall know
Into what night I watched them go,
How each blank face was dear to me,
How kindly fell the evening rain ?
And I could see - - and I could see.

Night Duty at the Station


Slowly out of the siding the troop train draws away,
Into the dark it passes, heaving straining.
Shattering on the points the engine stutters.
Fires burn in every truck. Rich shadows play
Over the vivid faces . . . bunched figures. Some one mutters
'Rainin' again . . . it's raining.'
Slammings - a few shouts - quicker
Each truck the same moves on.
Weary rain eddies after
Drifts where the deep fires flicker.
Into the dark with laughter
The last truck wags . . . it is gone.


Horns that sound in the night when very few are keeping
Unwilling vigil, and the moonlit air
Is chill, and everything around is sleeping -
Horns that call on a long low note - oh, where
Were you calling me last ?
The ghastly huntsman hunts no more, they say
The Arcadian fields are drugged with blood and clay
And is Romance not past ?


The station in this watch seems full of ghosts.
Above revolves an opalescent lift
Of smoke and moonlight in the roof. And hosts
Of pallid refugees and children, shift
About the barriers in a ceaseless drift.
Forms sleeping crowd beneath the rifle-rack,
Upon the bookstall, in the carts. They seem
All to be grey and burdened. Blue and black,
Khaki and red, are blended, as a dream
Into eternal grey, and from the back
They stagger from this darkness into light
And move and shout
And sing a little, and move on and out
Unready, and again, into the night.


The windows in the Post Office are lit with olive gold.
Across the bridge serene and old
White barges beyond count
Lie down the cold canal
Where the last shadows fall;
And a transparent city shines upon a magic mount.

Now fired with turkis blue and green
Where the first sunshine plays
The dawn tiptoes between
Waiting her signal from the woodland ways. . . .

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Carnival of Children's Literature 9: Thanksgiving edition

The ninth Carnival of Children's Literature, the Thanksgiving edition is up over at A Readable Feast. If you can tear yourself away from family and friends, food and football, do take the time to take a look at Anne-Marie's work.

Carnegie award longlist

As a slight diversion from the shock of finding 86 (yes eighty-six) books have been nominated in the SF&F section for the Cybils, I've just been looking at the Carnegie longlist, which is a mere 38 books long (lucky judges ! I think I'll volunteer for the Cybils Judging Committee next year, especially as I'll be writing a non-fiction book of my own this time next year and won't have time to read an extra 86 books !) I was pleased to discover I've read, or am about to read, seven of the Carnegie award longlist:

BUCKLEY-ARCHER, Linda Gideon the Cutpurse (Simon & Schuster) (Review here)
COOPER, Susan Victory (Bodley Head) (Review here)
DUNMORE, Helen The Tide Knot (HarperCollins) (Review here)
GOLDING, Julia The Secret of the Sirens (Oxford University Press) (Review here)
SEDGWICK, Marcus My Swordhand is Singing (Orion)
WEBB, Catherine The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle (Atom) (Review here)
WINTERSON, Jeanette Tanglewreck (Bloomsbury) (Review here)

The trouble is, I want at least three of those to win - and probably four once I've read Marcus Sedgwick's My Swordhand is Singing, given how much I enjoyed everything else he's written so far !

Happy Thanksgiving

To all my American readers - I hope you have a good holiday (and plenty of time to read !)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gideon the Cutpurse - Linda Buckley-Archer

Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon the Cutpurse has been on my radar for some time, thanks to the LoveReading for Kids website where I read an extract of the first chapter. This book is the gripping start to a trilogy, which ends on an absolute cliff-hanger !

This first book tells the tale of two British teenagers, Peter Schock and Kate Dyer. Kate is the eldest of several children and comes from a happy family home. Peter is an only child, whose parents both have high-powered jobs (his mother is a film director and is currently working on a film in LA). It's almost Christmas and the day Peter has been for so long has finally arrived. Today his father is going to take him out for a day to belatedly celebrate his twelfth birthday (3 months late). However, Peter's visions of sledging on the dry ski slope, lunch in London and a Premiership football match are dashed when his father breaks the news that he has to go to an important work-related meeting. Instead, Peter will be going to Derbyshire for the weekend with his au pair, staying with the Dyers. Peter is desperately upset at his birthday treat being postponed yet again and yells after his retreating father "I hate you!"

He and Margrit arrive in Derbyshire before lunch and Kate's dad takes the two of them to the science lab where he works in order to see his colleague Tim's antigravity machine. Kate and her father show Peter their "party trick", which involves touching a statically charged metal dome. Unfortunately, Kate's dog Molly leaps into the room through the ground floor window and when Kate touches Molly, she races away in sheer terror. Kate, Peter and Dr Dyer give chase, and the next thing that Peter and Kate know, they're waking up in a Derbyshire valley. What they don't immediately know is that they've been accidentally transported through time by the antigravity machine, and it's now 1763 !

Fortunately for the pair, they are befriended by a kindly young gentleman named Gideon and the upper class family by whom he has recently been employed. Before very long they're off on the adventure of a lifetime intending to get back the antigravity machine, which has been take by the utterly creepy yet dangerously powerful Tar Man (whose name was born out of his tragic youth), whilst struggling all the while to adjust to living in the 18th Century. Back in the 21st century, a massive police hunt has been launched for the missing children, but Dr Dyer and his colleagues aren't helping the police with their enquiries as they're desperate to keep to themselves what the antigravity machine can do. However, their plans are thwarted time and again by the children re-appearing, in 18th century dress, at intervals, usually in odd situations, and often in a fairly transparent state ! What is going on ? And will Peter and Kate ever get back to their families and the 21st century ?

Gideon the Cutpurse is also available from, and if you want to know more, check out the Gideon the Cutpurse website.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Machine Gunners - Robert Westall

Continuing the on-off theme of WW2 books (a mere accident of library borrowing), I've just read Robert Westall's excellent The Machine Gunners. Chas McGill is in his early teens in 1940 and lives in a small Tyneside town, in the industrial north-east of England, a town which is subjected to terrifying bombing raids by the Germans. Chas has the second-best collection of war souvenirs in town and he's desperate to have the best one. Then one night, a German plane crashes onto the local disused laundry, but its tail ends up in the nearby wood. Chas discovers it and when he sees the machine gun is still in place and intact he just has to have it. Climbing up to see if he can detach it, he gets a shock, however, when he finds the rear-gunner still in his seat, but quite definitely dead. However, he overcomes his horror and persuades his friend Cemetary Jones (the son of the local undertaker) and Audrey, a tomboy who's "as good as a boy", to help recover the machine gun. They hide it away and then soon afterwards comes another dreadful air raid, and Chas decides he's going to use the gun against the invading Germans. He and his friends look for somewhere to position it and they discover the perfect spot, in the garden of Chas' school fellow, Benjamin Nichol, known to everyone as Nicky. They begin building a machine gun emplacement there, despite the house being full of ratings billeted there with Nicky and his mother.

Nicky's home takes a direct hit from a bomb, but he had woken during the night suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of the sea, and he has a premonition that gets him out of the house before the bomb hits it. So the children turn their machine gun spot into a proper fortress, enlisting the help of a local man who is a bit simple but very strong, to do the digging for them. The children are able to spend most of their days at the Fortress, and Nicky and Clogger (another of Chas' friends, who lost his mother and whose father is in the Navy) live their permanently. Then one day, they attempt to shoot down a German aircraft that is sneaking into the harbour. Although they don't hit it, the local gunners do, but Rudi, the rear gunner in the aircraft escapes and eventually finds himself in the custody of the Chas and his friends. Although the children are armed, Rudi is sick and unable to escape them. By the time he recovers, he has become a father figure to them all, especially Nicky and Clogger. He persuades them to find him a boat (Nicky's father's boat) in return for fixing the machine gun, which had been taken apart by one of the boys. He sets during what everyone in Garmouth thinks is the German invasion, leaving the children behind, although Nicky has begged to be allowed to go with him.

This is a fascinating and engaging account of what life was like for a group of children in a seaside town that's being bombed on a regular basis, leaving the adults as helpless as the children, as Chas realises:

Ever since he was little, Dad had meant safety: large, solid, bristly-faced, smelling of tobacco. His thumb always grew in three segments, where he had hit it with a hammer while he was an apprentice.

But could any grown-up keep you safe now? They couldn't stop the German bombers. They hadn't saved Poland, or Norway or France. Or the battleship the German submarine torpedoed in Scapa Flow itself.

Their own air-raid shelter at home - it wasn't as safe as the Fortress. It was only covered with a foot of soil. Couldn't Dad have done better than that?

He looked at his father, and saw a weary, helpless middle-aged man. Dad wasn't any kind of God any more. (p. 95)

Firefly Quote of the Week

Kaylee: Captain seem a little funny to you at breakfast this morning?
Wash: Come on, Kaylee. We all know I'm the funny one.

("Heart of Gold", season 1)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Maddigan's Fantasia - Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy's Maddigan's Fantasia is a tie-in book for the TV series Maddigan's Quest, which has aired worldwide.

The story is set in a future time when a colourful group of travellers brave the twisting, unpredictable landscape of a world that is trying to remake itself several years after near-destruction. The travellers are the trapeze artists, clowns, magicians, tumblers, knife throwers and musicians of Maddigan's Fantasia, who are healing the damaged land with wonder and laughter. Garland Maddigan, is the 12-almost-13 year old daughter of the Fantasia's ringmaster, Ferdy. She has been on many journeys with the Fantasia before; it's her life. But she soon realises that this journey is going to be a very different one when three mysterious children join the Fantasia - the children have uncanny abilities and a secret past. And they bring with them powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to hunt them down and take them back to wherever it is they have come from. Garland soon finds herself embroiled in a series of terrifying adventures that will take her through perilous underground tunnels, through the land of the Witch-Finder, and eventually across time itself.

I have to confess to finding this book rather slow-going until nearly the end. It seemed very episodic and to not flow well, which was a surprise after reading Mahy's The Changeover. Despite that, it's an interesting tale and Garland is an intriguing character, as are Eden and Timon, the two older children who join the Fantasia with their baby sister, Jewel.

The Work-Life Balance: A Writer Speaks

There was an amusing piece by Meg Rosoff on the Guardian website the other day. She begins:

So far this year I've toured in Holland, Germany, the US and Italy. I've travelled around England signing books. I've contributed articles to tomes with titles like The Best Teenage Book Guide in The Universe, EVER! I delivered a lecture on The Crossover Novel, judged a first novel prize, wrote an introduction to Black Beauty, spoke at literary festivals, secondary schools, and teacher conferences. I signed 2,000 books in a warehouse in Rugby.

I also squeezed in writing a book. I would like to write another one. If I don't write another one, no one will be interested in asking me to do all those things that get in the way of writing books. Which means I'll end up in the publishing gutter: penniless, friendless and agentless, churning out magic unicorn bodice-rippers for tweenies under an assumed name.

This is, at the moment, how I see my future.

Do go and read it; Rosoff is quite bitter about Jeanette Winterson's "Room of her own", but in a light-hearted way.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cowards - Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick's Cowards is subtitled, "The True Story of the Men Who Refused to Fight". It's the story of Howard Marten and Alfred Evans, just two of the several hundred young men who refused to join the army during World War 1. They, together with fifteen other Conscientious Objectors are sent to the Front Line in France, having been conscripted into the Army once the Military Service Act was passed in 1916. They were told that they would have to obey their military orders or face the firing squad, but each one refused, over and over again, to go against their principles.

This is a brief, but very thought-provoking book. It's well written in a direct, simple style that clearly explains what the men believed and why they refused to fight. Adults will find it as interesting as children. I highly recommend the book to those who are looking for something to give to children who are wanting to discuss the rights and wrongs of armed conflict in any era and any arena. Cowards is also available from

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Meme: 50 Children's and YA Books

Kelly over at Big A, little a posted Time magazine's list of 100 best English language adult books and 100 best English language children's books the other day, and I revealed I hadn't managed to read even 20 in either category. So Kelly challenged me to come up with a list of fantasy books - she reasoned that I'd beat the world that way ! So after a few days of cogitating, I've compiled a list of 50 children's and YA books (note, they're not ALL fantasy books !) that I think are really good or very memorable. Some are very new indeed, and quite a lot more are considerably older as they're books I thoroughly enjoyed as a child, being so memorable I can still remember the details of the plots 25+ years later.

So the usual "rules" apply: Mark the selections you have read in bold. If you liked it, add a star (*) in front of the title, if you didn't, give it a minus (-).

The list is sorted alphabetically by author surname as I didn't want to get into fights over how I could put X higher than Y in the list ! And yes, I did choose more than one book by some authors - it's my list, so I made the rules...

* The Chronicles of Prydain - Alexander, Lloyd
* Carrie's War - Bawden, Nina
* Death of a Ghost - Butler, Charles
* Ender's Game - Card, Orson Scott
* Summerland - Chabon, Michael
* King of Shadows - Cooper, Susan
* The Dark is Rising sequence - Cooper, Susan
* Stonestruck - Cresswell, Helen
* Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl, Roald
* Matilda - Dahl, Roald
* Ingo - Dunmore, Helen
* The Sea of Trolls - Farmer, Nancy
* Madame Doubtfire - Fine, Anne
* Corbenic - Fisher, Catherine
* Inkheart - Funke, Cornelia
* The Thief Lord - Funke, Cornelia
* The Owl Service - Garner, Alan
* Happy Kid! - Gauthier, Gail
* Stormbreaker - Horowitz, Anthony
* Whale Rider - Ihimaera, Witi
* Finn Family Moomintroll - Jansson, Tove
* Fire and Hemlock - Jones, Diana Wynne
* The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster, Norton
* The Sheep Pig - King Smith, Dick
* Stig of the Dump - King, Clive
* A Wizard of Earthsea - Le Guin, Ursula
* The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Lewis, C S
* The House at Norham Gardens - Lively, Penelope
* Goodnight Mister Tom - Magorian, Michelle
* The Changeover - Mahy, Margaret
* The Stones are Hatching - McCaughrean, Geraldine
* The White Darkness - McCaughrean, Geraldine
* Beauty - McKinley, Robin
* Sabriel - Nix, Garth
* The Borrowers - Norton, Mary
* Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brien, Robert
* Z for Zachariah - O'Brien, Robert
* A Dog So Small - Pearce, Philippa
* Life As We Knew It - Pfeffer, Susan Beth
* A Hat Full of Sky - Pratchett, Terry
* His Dark Materials sequence - Pullman, Philip
* How I Live Now - Rosoff, Meg
* Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling, J K
* Holes - Sachar, Louis
* The Foreshadowing - Sedgwick, Marcus
* Marianne Dreams - Storr, Catherine
* When the Siren Wailed - Streatfield, Noel
* The Bartimaeus Trilogy - Stroud, Jonathan
* The Hobbit - Tolkien, J R R
* Charlotte's Web - White, E B

And I make no apology for the Britishness of the list - or for the fact that I've included an entire series on occasion. If you don't like the list, go and create one of your own ! *grins*

Horns and Wrinkles - Joseph Helgerson

Joseph Helgerson's Horns and Wrinkles is an All-American fantasy tale, although set in the real world of the Mississippi River.

This story starts with a nasty boy named Duke dangling his cousin Claire off the Steel Girder Bridge just outside the town of Blue Wing. Claire's been the victim of Duke's bullying for a very long time, but on this day something changes. The next moment Claire is sailing serenely down the Mississippi River with a nice, orange tennis-shoe-wearing, old lady and Duke has a horn growing out of his nose. Everybody in Blue Wing, Minnesota, knows that if something weird happens, it's probably related to the Mississippi River as this part of the river causes all sorts of odd things to happen. Everything from fairy-sightings to incidents involving river or rock trolls, something that is no end of trouble to the town's residents. Shortly after Duke acquires his horn, his family is turned into stone and Claire finds herself in the company of some fast-talking nylon bicycle-suit-wearing river trolls. So Claire and Duke find themselves helping these odd creatures on their peculiar quest to ensure that Duke's family don't remain stone forever. Not that Duke cares - he loves having a horn and is desperate to become a member of the river troll "gang". So when Duke's horn gets bigger every time he bullies someone, he's happy.

One of the things that's nice about this book is how realistic it seems, even to someone who's never seen the Mississippi. There's a funny bit in the book involving the local sheriff, a man who's seen everything that's river-related and treats the fact that some people have been turned to stone as perfectly unsurprising. He says, "There's folks in this town that choose not to believe in fortunetelling catfish, or low-flying buffalo, or whatever ... I'll tell you straight out, I'm not one of them." A wise man !

There are some lovely descriptions in this tale: "Tree branches remained bare but you could smell spring cooking inside them" and, when a river troll is threatened with a most gruesome punishment, "And if there's any funny business, I'll turn you into books. Thick ones with no pictures and tiny print.", which gave me the giggles.

The characters are believable too. Duke is totally nasty. He's nasty on page 1, he's still nasty on page 101, and even on page 301 he's not managed to give up being nasty. But Duke isn't a one-note villain. He's a coward, and a liar, but he's also one hundred percent believable.

I also liked the river troll trio with whom Claire and Duke get involved; they're far deeper characters than I expected at the beginning of the story, especially Stump, for whom Claire develops some affection during the course of her adventures.

Do read this book - it's great fun, but also very thoughtful.

Horns and Wrinkles is also available from

The Dark Flight Down - Marcus Sedgwick

The Dark Flight Down is the sequel to Marcus Sedgwick's The Book of Dead Days.

Sedgwick left several plot threads untouched at the end of the first book, particularly those relating to Boy's past, but he ties them up in this compelling, sometimes chilling, story. Boy is now working for the scientist Kepler, who sends him on an errand to the Yellow House, Valerian and Boy's former home. Whilst there, he's captured by Imperial soldiers and taken to the palace, where the dying, mad emperor Frederick is waited on by a group of power-hungry courtiers. Frederick is single, and he decides that he wants to become immortal so that he can rule forever without needing an heir. His right-hand man, Maxim, hopes to use Boy, whom he knows was Valerian's famulus (assistant) to somehow find the Book of Dead Days, so that he can make Frederick immortal.

To make things worse, the bloodthirsty Phantom is still loose in the city and Boy soon discovers that it dwells in the palace, deep underground. Boy is surrounded by treachery and Machiavellian lies, and his only hope lies with his friend, Willow, with whom he had planned to run away on the day he was captured. But then Boy learns the horrific truth behind the Phantom and the emperor - and what connection they both have to his past.

There's rather less magic and rather more mystery in The Dark Flight Down, compared to The Book of Dead Days. The titular book only appears in the story occasionally as the focus is mostly on Boy's attempts to escape Maxim, and to find out his true identity. Since the horror is all human, it's far more frightening than demons.

Sedgwick does a good job of wrapping up his story, revealing Boy's mysterious past and the identity of his family. The identity of the Phantom was a complete shock to me, a shock that was fairly horrific. The character of Boy is developed a great deal in the second book as he realises that it's not your name or parentage that defines you, but who you are and what you do that matters.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Poetry Friday 24: Remembrance 3

I am continuing my theme for November of poems for Remembrance and would like to offer you the following poems.


(from Counter-Attack and other Poems)

'Fall in! Now get a move on.' (Curse the rain.)
We splash away along the straggling village,
Out to the flat rich country, green with June...
And sunset flares across wet crops and tillage,
Blazing with splendour-patches. (Harvest soon,
Up in the Line.) 'Perhaps the War'll be done
'By Christmas-Day. Keep smiling then, old son.'

Here's the Canal: it's dusk; we cross the bridge.
'Lead on there, by platoons.' (The Line's a-glare
With shell-fire through the poplars; distant rattle
Of rifles and machine-guns.) 'Fritz is there!
'Christ, ain't it lively, Sergeant? Is't a battle?'
More rain: the lightning blinks, and thunder rumbles.
'There's over-head artillery!' some chap grumbles.

What's all this mob at the cross-roads? Where are the guides?...
'Lead on with number One.' And off they go.
'Three minute intervals.' (Poor blundering files,
Sweating and blindly burdened; who's to know
If death will catch them in those two dark miles?)
More rain. 'Lead on, Head-quarters.' (That's the lot.)
'Who's that?... Oh, Sergeant-Major, don't get shot!
'And tell me, have we won this war or not?'

Siegfried Sassoon

The next two poems are by one of the women poets of the First World War, Helen Hamilton. Her poems have much in common with Sassoon's, for all she did not experience life in the Front Lines. Little appears to be known about Helen Hamilton, beyond the fact that she was a school teacher. Her poetry, wryly observed and sharply satirical, may be compared without detriment to that of Sassoon - most of her poems are about the hypocrisy of those At Home, who were one of Sassoon's targets in his satirical poems. Her poem 'The Ghouls' is reminiscent of many poems by trench poets in its condemnation of the old men left At Home, but it also has a strong, anti-patriarchal note. The other civilians whom Hamilton attacks ferociously are the women who organised mass recruitment meetings prior to the introduction of conscription in May 1916 and who also handed out white feathers to young men who were not in uniform. In 'The Jingo-Woman', Hamilton not only attacks these women, but defends the young men, pointing out that it is easy for women to attack men for not enlisting when women are not called on to fight themselves.

The Ghouls

You strange old ghouls,
Who gloat with dulled old eyes,
                  Over those lists,
                  Those dreadful lists,
                  To see what name
                  Of friend, relation,
                  However distant,
                  May be appended
To your private Roll of Honour.
Unknowingly you draw, it seems,
                  From their young bodies,
                  Dead young bodies,
                  Fresh life,
                  New value,
Now that yours are ebbing.
                  You strange old ghouls,
Who gloat with dulled old eyes,
                  Over those lists,
                  Those dreadful lists,
                  Of young men dead.

The Jingo-Woman

(How I dislike you !)
Dealer in white feather,
Insulter, self-appointed,
Of all the men you meet,
Not dressed in uniform,
When to your mind,
                  (A sorry mind),
                  They should be,
                  The test ?
The judgement of your eye,
That wild, infuriate eye,
Whose glance, so you declare,
                  Reveals unerringly,
Who's good for military service.
Oh ! exasperating woman,
I'd like to wring your neck,
                  I really would !
                  You make all women seem such duffers !
                  Besides exemptions,
                  Enforced and held reluctantly,
                  -Not that you'll believe it -
                  You must know surely
Men there are, and young men too,
Physically not fit to serve,
Who look in their civilian garb
                  Quite stout and hearty.
And most of whom, I'll wager,
Have been rejected several times.
How keen, though, your delight,
                  Keen and malignant,
Should one offer you his seat,
                  In crowded bus or train,
Thus giving you the chance to say,
In cold, incisive tones of scorn:
                  'No I much prefer to stand
                  As you, young man, are not in khaki !'
Heavens ! I wonder you're alive !
                  Oh, these men,
These twice-insulted men,
                  What iron self-control they show,
                  What wonderful forbearance !

But still the day may come
For you to prove yourself
As sacrificial as upbraiding.
So far they are not taking us
But if the war goes on much longer
                  They might,
                  Nay more,
                  They must,
When the last man has gone.
And if and when that dark day dawns,
You'll join up first, of course,
Without waiting to be fetched.
But in the meantime,
Do hold your tongue !
You shame us women.
Can't you see it isn't decent,
To flout and goad men into doing,
                  What is not asked of you ?

Both of these poems appear in Catherine Reilly's excellent collection of WW1 poetry by women poets, Scars Upon My Heart. You will find the poems by Sassoon which I have quoted in his collected War Poems.

Cat Among the Pigeons - Julia Golding

Julia Golding's Cat Among the Pigeons is the second book in her historical Cat Royal series. In this adventure, Cat's friend Pedro, a violin-playing slave boy, is wanted by his former owner, the nasty Kingston Hawkins. Hawkins claims that Pedro was sold by a man with no ownership rights over him, and therefore Pedro's apprenticeship to Signor Angelini is invalid. He wants Pedro back and isn't interested in what Pedro wants. Cat steps in to attempt to save her friend, telling Hawkins that the boy he's just seen playing Ariel isn't Pedro at all because Pedro died of a fever the week before. The celebrated actor, Mr Kemble arrives and backs up Cat's story, but Hawkins doesn't believe them. He threatens them with the law before stomping off. Cat and Pedro go to their friends Frank and Lizzie, the children of the Duke of Avon, for assistance and are introduced to the local Abolitionists. They decide to get the public who go to the Theatre Royal on Pedro's side, and print fliers for just that reason. In the meantime, Cat is sent to Brook's club with some tickets and finds herself trapped by Hawkins and his cronies. They put her up on the billiard table and start inspecting her as if she was a slave too. Cat escapes, but in doing so she causes a lot of havoc and soon she finds herself wanted by the Law.

Will Cat escape a prison sentence ? Will Pedro be dragged back to Jamaica by Kingston Hawkins ? And where do three sisters from the Society of Friends fit into everything ? Read this book and find out !

Golding has created some lively and engaging characters who will keep you entertained with their wild adventures. This book is highly recommended.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Book of Dead Days - Marcus Sedgwick

It's entirely thanks to Kelly at Big A, little a that I began reading Marcus Sedwick's books, as she sent me his The Foreshadowing to read and review for The Edge of the Forest. I looked him up online and then went rushing to the library for other books by Sedgwick. His duology
The Book of Dead Days
and The Dark Flight Down is very popular.

Can a Faustian pact ever be avoided? And if it can, what will be the cost? The Book of Dead Days is an historical fantasy novel in which a nameless boy, known as Boy, searches for a way to help save his master Valerian from his Faustian bargain, and for clues to his own past.

Valerian is a stage magician in Korp's Theatre. There he presents many illusions, with Boy as his assistant. But their lives change irrevocably during the Dead Days, that strange period between Christmas and New Year. Valerian is desperate to find an ancient and very powerful book which he believes contains the answer to avoiding his fate. Boy, and his friend Willow, go with him in search of the book, which Valerian believes is hidden in the grave of one Gad Beebe. Whilst they're in the largest of the city's graveyards, Valerian is attacked by graverobbers and his arm is broken. Boy and Willow get him home with some difficulty, and Valerian tells them his story: fifteen years ago, he made a Faustian bargain in order to win the heart of the woman he loved. Will Boy, Willow and Valerian find the book in time ? Where has Valerian's friend Kepler disappeared to ? Just who or what is The Phantom, the being that is going around killing the City's inhabitants ?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Gorgon's Gaze - Julia Golding

Julia Golding's The Gorgon's Gaze is the second book in the Companions Quartet.

Mallins Wood is under threat from developers as the Axoil company wants a new, faster access road to its oil refinery. However, unknown to everyone but the members of the top secret Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures, Mallins Wood is the home of the last gorgon, the creature so deadly she can kill just by looking at you. The gorgon's Companion (ie. the human that has a special bond with the gorgon) is Col's mother, and she's determined to save it. So determined is she, that she is willing to take aid from the evil shape-shifter Kullervo, even if it means having to sacrifice her son to him. But Col's mother doesn't realise that Kullervo wants more than to just help the gorgon - he also wants universal power, and to achieve that he needs Col's best friend, Connie.

In the meantime, Connie has her own troubles. Her parents have heard about Connie's escapades regarding the Axoil refinery nearly a year ago and they've decided that Connie's membership of the Society is endangering her. They send Connie's Great Aunt Godiva and Great Uncle Hugh to look after her, instead of her aunt Evelyn (who's a Companion to Banshees). Godiva is determined to "stamp out" the nonsense (shades of the Dursleys, methinks !) and claims that the Society is some sort of cult that has brainwashed Connie into thinking she hears voices. Connie thus finds her intended training as a Universal Companion won't be taking place as she is locked up at Lionheart Lodge (Godiva and Hugh's old home). But there's something more to Godiva than she's admitting. Why are there no wild plants, trees or wild animals in her garden ? Why does she know so much about the highly secret Society ? And why won't she have anything made of wood near her ?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Book of Story Beginnings - Kristine Kladstrup

Kristine Kladstrup's The Book of Story Beginnings is a book with an intriguing premise.

When young Lucy Martin moves into the house in Iowa that her father has inherited from his Aunt Lavonne, she hopes to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Lavonne's 14 year old brother, Oscar, back in 1914. Lavonne claims that he rowed away from the house in a boat on an ocean that magically appeared out of nowhere to lap at the garden gate. When Lucy finds the "Book of Story Beginnings" and writes in it about a girl whose father was a magician, her father suddenly becomes a magician who has invented a transforming potion. He turns himself into a crow and flies away from the stray cat who has been lurking around the house since they moved in. The cat laps up the spilled potion, then turns into Oscar, the long-lost boy. Lucy and Oscar then have to find a way to cross the magical ocean in order to bring back Lucy's father who, in the meantime, has flown away to the land created by Oscar when he wrote one of his story beginnings in the magical book.

These characters are interesting and Oscar's plight when he is transformed back into a boy and discovers that his entire family is long dead is portrayed realistically and sympathetically. This is an interesting investigation into the power of writing and story and Kladstrup is good at going into the nature of what a story is and how authors must sometimes feel when their characters take on lives of their own. Just what makes a good piece of fiction ? Why does one story beginning work better than another ? The book takes the idea of creating magical worlds to its logical extreme, but the imaginings that Oscar and Lucy come up with, like a king who loves cats and a queen who loves birds, are not really detailed enough once the characters actually encounter them. We're told how shocked Oscar is that his written world is as detailed and elaborate as it is, but the world isn't actually detailed very clearly to the reader. Whilst it's interesting to think about how real a fictional world that you have created is, this book doesn't do very well at showing that.

The convenience of the magical objects in this book also strains credulity - they're definitely Macguffins (to borrow Hitchcock's term). For example, Lucy's Great Aunt Lavonne was able to construct everything from transforming potions to a travelling talisman in her laboratory and these objects work without a hitch when employed by Lucy, her father and Oscar at various points, but they were apparently never used by Lavonne herself to find her long-lost brother. Which I find just a little incredible !

The Book of Story Beginnings is also available from

Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer

Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It is tense, gripping, page-turning book. Be warned, if you're going to read it, don't make any other plans before you begin !

A meteor is going to impact with the moon, and 16 year old Miranda, like the rest of her family and most of her neighbours in rural Pennsylvania, is intending to watch it from the front garden of her house. But the impact is far more serious than was predicted and the moon is knocked closer to the Earth, which sets off a chain of horrific natural disasters: massive tsunamis, earthquakes where there aren't usually earthquakes, then later on, volcanic eruptions that on such a wide scale that the air becomes permanently grey and there's no sunlight or rain. The story is told in the form of Miranda's diary entries and depicts her family's struggle to survive in a world where food, warmth, and good health can disappear in the blink of an eye. Thanks to frantic preparations by her incredibly quick-thinking mother, Miranda's family is in better shape than many as the town's utilities and public services break down, but wild storms bring extremes of temperature, and outbreaks of disease, both familiar (flu) and unfamiliar (West Nile virus) turn the hospital into a dead zone.

Fortunately, in Miranda's journal entries, Pfeffer keeps nearly all of the death and explicit violence offstage, choosing to focus instead on the stresses of spending months huddled together in increasingly confined quarters in an attempt to keep warm, watching the supplies dwindle, and wondering whether there will be any future to make their efforts worthwhile. This is a nail-biting tale that will inevitably be compared to Meg Rosoff's Printz Award-winning book, How I Live Now which I read and reviewed in August. Pfeffer's setup isn't quite as smooth as Rosoff's - after all, why didn't the astronomers predict the possibility of the moon's orbit being altered by the meteor's impact ? But Miranda and her family seem more familiar than Rosoff's characters and somewhat easier to engage with than Rosoff's. This book is filled with events both exhausting and terrifying yet I found it nigh on impossible to put down; indeed, it kept me reading until long past the time I normally switch off the light because I had to know how it ended.

Life As We Knew It is also available from

Firefly Quote of the Week

Simon: This may come as a shock, but I'm actually not very good at talking to girls.
Zoe: Why, is there someone you are good at talking to?

("The Message", Season 1)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Carrie's War - Nina Bawden

Nina Bawden's Carrie's War is probably the most famous of her books, thanks to the Carrie's War film.

Albert Sandwich, and Carrie and Nick Willow are evacuated to Wales during the Second World War. Carrie and Nick are billeted with old Mr Evans, who is a mean, cold, bullying man, and his timid mouse of a sister, Lou. Their friend Albert is luckier; he lives in Druid's Bottom with warm-hearted Hepzibah Green and the slightly strange Mister Johnny, who can talk to animals but not clearly to people. Carrie and Nick visit Albert whenever they can because Hepzibah, whom Albert tells them is a witch, makes life exciting and enticing with her stories and delicious cooking. Gradually they begin to feel more at ease in their war-time home. However, when his estranged older sister dies, Carrie gives Mr Evans a message from her, and he flies into a terrible rage. But the next day Mr Evans goes to Druid's Bottom and comes back quite calmly. Albert and Carrie suspect that he has destroyed whatever will his sister had made in favour of giving Hepzibah and Mister Johnny a home for the rest of their lives, (as she told Carrie she had done). In an attempt to save Druid's Bottom, Carrie does a terrible thing which then haunts her for thirty years until she returns to the area as an adult, and tells the story to her own children.

What intrigued me about this book, initially, is the way that Carrie's children aren't ever named. The story opens and closes with them, but they are just referred to as (for example) the oldest boy, or the youngest boy, etc. I eventually realised it's because they're only important to Carrie's tale as an audience (along with the Reader), therefore who they are doesn't really matter.