Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quick Reviews

After a stressful week and a half, I find myself with a handful of books that I've not yet reviewed, so I'm going to do some quick reviews of a paragraph or so, on the grounds that a short review is better than none at all !

Den of Thieves

Julia Golding's Den of Thieves is the third volume in her "Cat Royal" series. Young Cat finds herself homeless when her patron, Mr Sheridan, decides to pull down the Drury Lane Theatre in order to rebuild it. Having been found on its doorstep as an orphan, the theatre is the only home she's ever known. Too proud and stubborn to admit to anyone that she has made no other living arrangements, she watches her friend Pedro, the African boy who plays violin in the theatre orchestra, heading off to Europe. Her friend Sid the butcher is off on a boxing tour of England, and the family of Lord Francis, her wealthiest friends, is dispersing to France or the English countryside. Cat finds temporary accommodation and work with a fraudulent printer who passes her stories off as the work of his young male assistant. When Lord Francis and Mr Sheridan discover this, they are able to rescue Cat and Mr Sheridan offers Cat a job - a trip to Paris to find out more about the ongoing French Revolution. She naively accepts and heads off pretending to be a member of the Theatre's Ballet Company. Arriving in France under the protection of Lord Francis, she is nearly hung from a lamp-post as a traitor to the Revolution, then finds herself pursued by several suitors (much to her bafflement!) When the French Royal family flees Paris, Cat discovers the power of the people.

Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren's ever-popular character Pippi Longstocking is a nine year old girl who lives without any adult supervision in a house of her. She's very unconventional, assertive, rich and extraordinarily strong (she can lift her horse off the veranda that surrounds her house without difficulty). She frequently mocks and dupes the adults she encounters, although Pippi usually reserves her worst behaviour for the most pompous and condescending of the adults whom she meets. She makes friends with two children who live nearby and has a series of dramatic and adventurous escapades, usually with them in tow. This is a fun book and I can see why the character has remained so popular for so many years.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Paul Magrs' Mad Dogs and Englishmen was the 100th Classic "Doctor Who" novel to be published and it's an amusing and wild send up of English Literature's favourite fantasists. Reginald Tyler (a thinly disguised J. R. R. Tolkien) has devoted his life to the writing of his masterwork, "The True History of Planets". It is an almost endless story about elves, trolls, goblins, etc. At least, it used to be - and that's the book that the Doctor has always known. However, after arriving at a science-fiction convention in the early 21st century, the Doctor discovers that the book is no longer about such fantastical creatures, but is instead a book about the true events on Dogworld, a planet inhabited by poodles with hands who can talk. The Dogworld Queen has been overthrown and a new Emperor has taken over. To make matters worse, an acclaimed movie maker (a thinly disguised George Lucas) has made a movie of the book which will make the situation on Dogworld even worse. Thus, the Doctor, and his Companions, Anji and Fitz, have to figure out what's going on and how to stop it. They pick up some more temporary companions along the way and separate into the time stream in order to sort out what's happened. The Doctor and one poodle go to the 1940s and infiltrate the Smudgelings, Tyler's elite Cambridge writing group (the thinly disguised Inklings group of Oxford). Fitz and Flossie (another temporary companion) go to the 196's and fall in with the flamboyant torch-singer, Brenda Soobie, who is rather more than she seems. Finally, Anji and another poodle, go to the 1970s where work on the film of "The True History of the Planets" is just beginning. What follows is pretty bizarre but still amusing. There's even a comment on the decline of stop-motion animation and the rise of CGI in movies which is actually a major plot point of the story. And you may never look at Noel Coward in the same way again after reading this book as he's also a time-traveller - although he uses a rather different object to do his travelling to the Doctor's familiar TARDIS.


In Cat Weatherill's Barkbelly a farmer finds a wooden egg in a field and takes it home with him. One cold and wet winter night, when he and his wife are unable to get the fire to burn, he throws the egg onto the fire, and they're very surprised when a wooden baby pops out of it. He and his wife, who are childless, adopt the child and name him Barkbelly.

One day at school Barkbelly, who is immensely strong and almost indestructible, accidentally kills one of his school mates in a boisterous game of Bull Run. Convinced that the towns people will kill him, he flees and has a series of adventures, including working in a jam factory and joining a travelling circus. During his travels he discovers that there is an entire island full of other wooden people and he becomes determined to make his way there in order to find his family, from whom he believes he was stolen as an egg since Ashenpeakers (his people) are often sold into slavery as eggs. However, when Barkbelly discovers his mother, he also discovers that life is often more complicated than he had supposed.


David Thorpe's Hybrids was the winning entry to the Harper Collins/SAGA magazine nationwide competition to find a new author over the age of 50. A dark SF tale, its two protagonists are teenagers Johnny Online and Kestrella, who are hybrids - victims of a pandemic called Creep that is sweeping the UK and causes victims to merge with items of technology when over-exposed to their use. Kestrella, who has a mobile phone for a hand, persuades a reluctant Johnny, who merged with a computer and has a screen instead of a face, to help her find her missing mother, but the Gene Police have other plans for him. This compelling narrative is told alternately by Johnny and Kes, and questions the First World's dependence on technology, and our reactions in the face of a nationwide panic. Helen Dunmore, one of the judges for the HC/SAGA competition notes: "The writing is sharp, the dialogue good, and the action pacey and page-turning. But there's a real depth to this story, too. Like all good fiction it makes the reader see the world in a different light." A view I can endorse whole-heartedly.


DavidKThorpe said...

I'm glad you liked it, Michele. Thanks for your blog!

Best wishes

David Thorpe

Michele said...

Thanks for stopping by and reading/commenting. I did enjoy it...