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Book Review: The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn

The Winter Garden Mystery is the second in a long series of gentle cosy crime mysteries by Carola Dunn, the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.

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The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn 

Daisy Dalrymple, or more correctly the Honourable Miss Dalrymple, is the daughter of aristocracy but the family estate was passed onto a cousin when her only brother was killed in the First World War. Daisy is expected to live with her mother at the family estate’s Dower House but, independently-minded Daisy prefers to make her own way in the world and house-share with a friend in London, while earning her living as a writer for a country magazine. Daisy has a particular skill for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming embroiled in murder investigations.

It’s 1923 and Daisy is off to stay at Occles Hall to write an article for Town and Country about the history of the house and estate. Invited by the daughter of the house, a girl she was at school with though not particular friends with as the girl was a few years older, Daisy isn’t at all sure what to expect. She’s heard a few stories about the Lady of the manor, Lady Valeria, who carries before her a formidable reputation as an unrelenting battleaxe and Daisy starts to wonder what sort of an assignment she’s taken on.

When she arrives Daisy is soon put at ease by the welcome from horse-fanatic Bobbie, otherwise known as Roberta, her younger Adonis-like brother Sebastian and the family’s secretary, Ben Goodman. Sir Reginald also makes Daisy feel quite welcome, though he is a rather absent-minded man and spends all his waking hours at his estate’s dairy, creating award-winning cheeses. Lady Valeria is the only uncomfortable presence so Daisy does her best to avoid her and goes about writing her article and photographing the Hall and gardens.

A visit to the winter garden is a must as it is February at the time of Daisy’s visit so the winter garden is the best-looking part of the estate gardens to show off in the photos and article. Daisy is handed over to the young Welsh under-gardener, Owen, for the tour of the winter garden and on their visit Daisy spots a dead azalea bush in the middle of the garden which looks quite out-of-place amidst the winter flowering shrubs and evergreens. Owen is dismayed and calls on the head gardener straight away. They go to dig it up and make the shocking discovery of a dead body wrapped in a sheet buried under the dead bush. What’s more, the body is that of young Grace Moss, previous parlourmaid at the Hall and particular friend of Owen. She had disappeared a couple of months previously and it was assumed that she had gone off to London to find fortune and fun. A shocking secret lies buried with Grace as well… something to ruffle feathers and rock relationships up at the Hall.

The local Inspector proves to be worse than useless, so Daisy surreptitiously calls on her friend Alec, Detective Chief Inspector Fletcher, from Scotland Yard; an acquaintance made on a previous case Daisy found herself mixed up in and who seems to be as fond of Daisy as she is of him… though both are very aware that they come from different social classes and so their friendship is frowned upon by some members of the upper classes…

Daisy refuses to leave the excitement at the Hall and head back home to London, so Alec needs to find and catch the killer, with some urgency, before they strike again. Daisy’s meddling nature may well be putting her at risk. The trouble is, with a number of likely suspects and little hard evidence, can this murderer be caught?

A gentle 1920s cosy crime mystery, peppered with social etiquette, manners, and featuring the interesting and newly independent Daisy Dalrymple, finding her way in the new 1920s upper and middle class society. A very enjoyable and easy, lightweight read. Absolutely no gore, no deep psychological twists and no suspense of the sort to stop you sleeping at night. A very good, Golden Age-style, old-fashioned murder mystery. If you enjoy the Daisy Dalrymple series, you may also enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear and the Kate Shackleton mysteries by Frances Brody.

A complete list of The Daisy Dalrymple mysteries to date (up to April 2017):
1. Death at Wentwater Court
2. The Winter Garden Mystery
3. Requiem for a Mezzo
4. Murder on the Flying Scotsman
5. Damsel in Distress
6. Dead in the Water
7. Styx and Stones
8. Rattle His Bones
9. To Davy Jones Below
10. The Case of the Murdered Muckraker
11. Mistletoe and Murder
12. Die Laughing
13. A Mourning Wedding
14. Fall of a Philanderer
15. Gunpowder Plot
16. The Bloody Tower
17. Black Ship
18. Sheer Folly
19. Anthem for Doomed Youth
20. Gone West
21. Heirs of the Body
22. Superfluous Women

About the Author

Carola Dunn (born in 1946) grew up in England, graduated from Manchester University and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of around 60 books, including the 22 Daisy Dalrymple books, 4 Cornish mysteries and 32 Regency novels. To find out more about the author, visit her website caroladunn.weebly.com.

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Winter Garden Mystery is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £7.99 ISBN 9781845297466. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. If we don’t have it in stock we would be happy to order it in for you. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Book Review: The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

I’m a long way beyond the target audience age range for this book but I enjoy reading children’s fiction; sometimes it’s the perfect switch-off at the end of a busy day. All the best children’s novels are just as good to read as an adult – good writing, good characterisation, plot structure and so on are the main requirements. If a book can meet all those elements I don’t mind who it’s aimed at.

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WARNING:
DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS PAGE

A good opener. I was intrigued. If a book can grab my attention at page one then I’ll read on, whatever the subject. This was just too intriguing. ‘Do not read beyond this page’. Nothing could be more likely to make me want to keep reading than an instruction telling me not to! A great means to get the reader to buy or borrow the book and see what happens next.

“Generally speaking, books don’t cause much harm. Except when you read them, that is. Then they cause all kinds of problems.
Books can, for example, give you ideas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an idea before, but, if you have, you know how much trouble an idea can get you into.

Books can also provoke emotions. And emotions are sometimes even more troublesome than ideas. Emotions have led people to do all sorts of things they later regret…” [from the first page]

I like the way the author talks to the reader, telling us the book is dangerous. There’s a secret in the book and knowing this is worse than not knowing. Of course we’re supposed to read on!

Cass (short for Cassandra) is quite a serious and a very practical 11 year old. She is always prepared for an emergency and carries around a backpack containing items to help with surviving all kinds of disasters; her ‘survival’ kit. Cass has two surrogate grandpas who live near her house in an old abandoned fire station, where they also run an old antiques store. This is one of Cass’s favourite places and she spends her Wednesdays after school here, supposedly helping in the shop but really listening to the grandpas’ stories and exploring some of the antiques.

Max-Ernest, also 11 years old, fancies himself as a bit of a comedian but his classmates aren’t as amused by his jokes as he is. Max-Ernest is always on the lookout for someone to try his jokes out on at school and looking around the school yard one day, he can only see one pupil who hasn’t yet heard his current joke; sitting alone at the edge of a field is Cass. Cass isn’t lonely; she’s investigating a finding on the field which she thinks may spell doom and disaster for the school. Cass is convinced that the school has been built on top of a toxic waste dump. She loves to imagine disaster scenarios and it frequently gets her into trouble with the headteacher.

This meeting on the playing field is the beginning of a friendship between Cass and Max-Ernest and spells the beginning of their adventures. They end up trying to uncover a mysterious secret, involving a rare antique case of vials of smells, a missing magician and his diary and a suspicious estate agent called Gloria Fortune. The pair find themselves embroiled deeper and deeper in this mystery as it leads them on some quite perilous adventures, needing their wits, decoding skills, intuition and escape capabilities. I won’t reveal any more but I can recommend reading the book to find out their SECRET.

The first in a series, this book is followed by:
2. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
3. This Book Is Not Good For You
4. This Isn’t What It Looks Like
5. You Have To Stop This

Recommended for ages 8+

About the Author

Pseudonymous Bosh is a pseudonym, or pen name and it belongs to American author Raphael Simon. He has written other books under the Pseudonymous Bosch name – the Bad series and a stand-alone children’s novel, Write This Book. To find out more, have a look at his website www.pseudonymousbosch.com

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Name of This Book is Secret is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £6.99 ISBN 9781409583820. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock.

Review: Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning

A friendly green dragon, a mermaid, Arthurian legend and eight-year-old Sue who is on holiday at the Cornish seaside with her parents. Add together these ingredients for a magical, gentle children’s story.

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Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning (Jane Nissen Books, 2008)

First published in 1957; I don’t know how I missed this growing up as I LOVED green dragons… but perhaps they didn’t have it in my local library. Anyway, I’ve just finished reading Green Smoke and I’m about to go on the hunt for the sequels: Dragon in Danger (1959), The Dragon’s Quest (1961), and The Dragon in the Harbour (1980). Original editions are hard to find but second-hand Puffin paperback reprints aren’t too tricky to track down.

“A story about life-long friendship and magical adventures – a happy book, with lots of jokes” – Amanda Craig

So Sue is on holiday in Constantine Bay. Perhaps I should let the author introduce Constantine Bay – this is how the story opens:

‘This is a story about a girl called Susan, or Sue for short, who went for a seaside holiday to Constantine Bay in Cornwall. Perhaps you have never been to Constantine Bay. Perhaps you have never even been to Cornwall. That won’t matter at all. Just think of the rockiest rocks, the sandiest sand, the greenest sea and the bluest sky you can possibly imagine, and you will have some idea of Constantine Bay.’

There is a high cliff with a lighthouse, a ridge of rocks jutting into the sea, sand dunes ‘with hummocks of tough grass, and little hot sandy paths running in and out like yellow streams’.

Idyllic, yes? I think so.

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Beach at low tide – St Ives, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

It’s on the third day of the holidays, early in the morning when there aren’t many people about, that Sue is scrambling about on the rocks by herself and she hears a sound like a very loud sneeze and sees a little puff of green smoke come out of a cave nearby. Sue goes to investigate and another sneeze erupts and with it a paper bag comes flying out of the cave. Sue goes to bury the paper bag in a hole and cover it over with sand when a voice comes out of the cave to thank her for burying their rubbish. Sue keeps the conversation going with the mysterious voice until she can coax it into telling her who it belongs to… a rather surprising Mr R. Dragon; Cornish, green and a friendly, if occasionally grumpy, dragon.

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Prehistoric Cornwall – Lanyon Quoit in the mist © Sam Barnes

R. Dragon and Sue become firm friends and Sue visits nearly every day to share her picnic, or a bun or a biscuit, to hear the dragon’s tales and to go on the occasional adventure. Dragon is some 1500 years old and he’s quite lonely in his cave so he loves spending time with Sue and gets quite grumpy if Sue misses a visit due to bad weather or a day spent with her parents! However, his manners are impeccable, he’s very polite and he’s lived a long, long time, so has some fabulous tales to tell. Most of R. Dragon’s tales relate to Arthurian legend as he lived for a time at the court of King Arthur so knows all about the legend of the sword Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake and Arthur and his knights.

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Tintagel, Cornwall © Sam Barnes

As to why he’s called R. Dragon… well, he can’t tell Sue his full name. If a dragon or a mermaid or a fairy tells you their name then you will have complete power over them and that can be a very dangerous thing…


About the Author

Rosemary Manning was born in 1911 and studied Latin and Greek at one of the first universities to take women students, the Royal Holloway. She was a teacher and later headmistress of a school for girls in North London. She wrote several books for children and adults and was also known by the pseudonyms Sarah Davys and Mary Voyle. She died in 1988.

Where to Buy

Green Smoke is currently out-of-print in the UK. For collectable editions try biblio.co.uk. For second hand paperbacks try your local second hand and antiquarian bookshops, charity shops and the internet. Click here for a good resource to help you find your local second hand bookshops in the UK.

Review: The Clue in the Diary (Nancy Drew)

The Clue in the Diary – Nancy Drew Mystery No. 7

It’s been a very long time since I last read a Nancy Drew story – I would have been around 9 years old and borrowing them from my local library, along with many, many other books which I devoured, particularly in the school holidays.

I have always loved books with a passion and, although I didn’t have very many, the books that I owned as a child are the ones that were re-read and they are the stories that stayed with me most vividly. I remember borrowing the Nancy Drew stories – I even have a visual memory of the carousel in Daventry Library that housed them – but I can’t remember anything more about them… that is, until now.

The Clue in the Diary is the 7th Nancy Drew mystery and features Nancy with her friends, the cousins George and Bess, and her new friend Ned Nickerson. Together the three girls, with a bit of help from Ned, are trying to solve the mystery of a diary and signet ring found at the site of a burning house which the girls saw on their way home one night. They stopped at the scene to see if they could help. Nancy saw a man fleeing the scene into the undergrowth and the diary and signet ring were found soon afterwards…

I thoroughly enjoyed this quite undemanding but entertaining read. I’ve recently re-read a number of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. This is very similar but (and I never thought I’d say this) not quite as well written or as well plotted as a Famous Five. Still, the characterisation is very good, the novel well-plotted and I enjoyed it very much. Although Nancy drives a car and has had boy friends, this is perfectly suitable for 8 and up and is  equally suitable for teenagers and beyond looking for a lightweight read.

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Nancy Drew novels

About the Series

Set in America the first four novels in the series were published in 1930. The original series kept running until 2003 with 175 novels published in total. The main character has also appeared in spin off series The Girl Detective, The Nancy Drew Files and is the heroine in the Diaries series as well.  The author, Carolyn Keene, is the pen name for a number of different writers used to write the books.

Where to Buy

The book is currently in print with Grosset and Dunlap in a 2015 edition. The UK RRP is £6.99 for a hardback copy. ISBN 9780448489070. You can buy this and other titles from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local when you can to help keep your high streets alive. At Books & Ink Bookshop we sell most of our new books at a discounted price and we also have a large second-hand stock (specialising in second-hand and antiquarian children’s books). Online we recommend biblio.co.uk for collectable and out-of-print books.

Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

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How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

Having met my other half in the bookshop (him customer, me bookseller) I loved the sound of this book; it was a definite must read and just the thing for a summer’s eve.

Emilia is 32-ish and she inherits, from her father Julius, the bookshop and home she grew up in but where she has spent little time over the past few years. It has been just the two of them since Emilia was a baby, so when Julius dies there is no other family to help out and Emilia has to make all the decisions about the future of the bookshop by herself.

Julius has poured much energy,  love and money into the bookshop for the past 32 years but has he left a strong enough business for Emilia to continue his legacy…?

‘A book shop could only make things better – for everyone in Peasebrook. Julius imagined each person he passed as a potential customer. He could picture them all, crowding in, asking his advice, him sliding their purchases into a bag, getting to know their likes and dislikes, putting a book aside for a particular customer; knowing it would be just up their street. Watching them browse, watching the joy of them discovering a new author; a new world.’

Nightingale Books occupies a prime location in the yellow-stoned Cotswolds town of Peasebrook and it occupies a very special place in the heart of the community, with a core of customers who are determined to help keep the bookshop open now that Julius has gone.

There’s the ‘lady of the manor’, Sarah, who has a long-standing connection to the bookshop and understands all too well what it’s like to be in financial difficulty. There is Thomasina, the painfully shy teacher, just a few years younger than Emilia, who falls for a man she met in the cookery section. There’s Mia, a young mum who’s given up a high-flying career to have the country life at home with her baby but is looking for something more. There’s Marlowe who used to put the world to rights with Julius several times a week over a drink or two, and who Julius used to play cello with in a small chamber group and then there’s Jackson, the young builder who is trying to save his marriage and form a deeper connection with his young son, through books.

There are several love stories woven through the novel, each of them appealing in their own way and the multiple plot strands make it a great page turner; it literally kept me up one night to finish it. I was slightly less enthused about the inner workings of the bookshop, renovations and practicalities but that’s only the bookseller / bookshop owner in me picking holes in the detail. It is a novel after all, not a factual account. Very few readers are going to notice anything to grumble about there; just bookshop owners like me! My only other grumbles are extremely minor but they niggled at me so I’m going to mention them. Book Shop or Bookshop? There are so few examples of ‘Book Shop’ being used these days; the norm being bookshop or bookstore (bookstore being slightly more American but both terms are used in both countries). This bothered me, perhaps unduly. What do you think? My only other niggle was just a tiny editorial thing. Near the beginning of the novel Veronica Henry has the characters going ‘up to London’ from Oxford… and that just didn’t work for me; you don’t go ‘up’ to London from Oxford, you definitely go down. They really are tiny grumbles.

I haven’t read any other novels by Veronica Henry so I can’t make any comparisons with her other books but when I fancy a light-hearted romance I would read another. I enjoyed her style and multiple plot strands and anything that keeps me up into the early hours of the morning has to get the thumbs up from me.

About the Author

Veronica Henry lives in Devon and has penned 14 romance novels; one of which won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award, A Night on The Orient Express. Before trying her hand at fiction she also had a successful career as a scriptwriter for The Archers, Holby City and Heartbeat, amongst others

Where to Buy

You can buy How to Find Love in a Book Shop from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local where possible to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new hardback is £12.99. ISBN no 9781409146889. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Orion in hardback in 2016.

Review: Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I chose Mobile Library as my next read; something cute and fluffy about books and reading perhaps. The story is about a 12 year old boy and I think I was expecting a children’s book. What I got was something quite different. Mobile Library is something of a contemporary fairy tale, complete with all the dark and dismal parts that usually crop up in fairy tales, as well as the redeeming fairy-godmother.

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Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

 

Twelve-year-old Bobby lives a bleak and lonely life, devoid of affection since his mother died. His father and girlfriend appear to care little for Bobby and show little interest in the boy, except for when they are venting their anger. When he’s at home Bobby spends his time neatly arranging and rearranging memories of his mother into files, or boxes, so that she can pick up her life where she left off when she returns… Bobby is also bullied at school but has a best friend, Sunny, who is his greatest protector. Bobby and Sunny are on a mission to turn Sunny into a cyborg so that he can protect Bobby from bad things forever.

Then Bobby meets Rosa when he’s passing by her house on his way home from school. She is 13 and she asks Bobby if he’d like to play. She has a disability of some sort, has a loving and trusting nature and immediately takes to Bobby as a friend. Rosa is attacked by the same bullies picking on Bobby (while Bobby, through fear hides in the bushes) and through this situation Bobby comes to meet Val, Rosa’s mum. Val and Rosa both warm to Bobby very quickly and take him into their hearts. Bobby spends more and more time with them, learning better how to communicate (after the silence he endures at home), taking baths (another forbidden thing at home), reading books, playing, eating proper meals and indulging in treats like ice cream (not allowed, his father says). Val enjoys Bobby’s company – for many years she has had little company other than her daughter – and Bobby feels love and a sense of belonging for the first time since his mother’s death. The little trio start to become like a functional family unit, although Bobby still has to go home to his father at the end of the day.

‘In every book is a clue about life,’ Val said. ‘That’s how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so that the things that happen in them will happen to you.’

‘I don’t think the things that happen in books will happen in my life,’ he said.

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘You just don’t recognise them yet.’

Then events occur which put their surrogate son-mother relationship in danger and Val decides to take off across the country with Bobby and Rosa in the mobile library which she cleans once a week. In their time together this library has become like a dreamworld to Bobby – full of stories, adventures and escapism:

Morning hours vanished somewhere inside the books. Bobby read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, amazed that a man whose name he couldn’t pronounce might write a story that seemed like it was written just for him. Like the young prince, he too found the adult world strange. He too saw very few certainties in it.

They encounter quite a number of adventures while travelling and trying to evade detection, including picking up a fellow traveller-on-the-run who leads them all the way up to Scotland, from middle England, and back down and Bobby, Rosa and Val are all having the times of their lives when reality strikes. Will they be able to stay together in their new-found family unit…?

The novel starts at the end, which I didn’t particularly mind; it’s usually a device that annoys me as I like the novel to tell the story but in this case it is the ending told from a slightly different narrative perspective to the actual ending which is narrated in more detail and with Val’s voice, so the story isn’t fully revealed at the beginning. I didn’t get into the book right away, perhaps because it was so different to what I was expecting. I found the characters all a bit extreme and therefore not very believable and the plot a bit far-fetched. But. Then I settled into the fairy-tale-type style and it no longer mattered to me if the characterisation was over-the-top and the accumulation of events unbelievable; the characters were living out their own story and that’s when it started to work for me and fall into place. There’s no doubt that child abuse on this level does take place, disability discrimination, and so on. And there’s no doubt that reading stories, along with love and nurture, can really help unlock a child’s potential. The author also explores the theme of imagination and how far one can go with imagination before harm is done, i.e. is it always good to be imaginative, or should the self or another inflict boundaries to protect you from harm? A number of deep themes are explored.

There is some interesting philosophising in the novel, some great snippets about books, reading and the influences of literature, and some deeply disturbing aspects regarding child abuse and abusive relationships. It is not a novel for children, that much is clear but it doesn’t otherwise fit into a neatly arranged category. It is a good, thoughtful read. I often find it easy to forget a book almost as soon as I’ve read it but I won’t forget this one. The book isn’t perfect and can feel overdone and blatant but I would recommend it, particularly for the universal message about the power of stories to change, heal and transform.

About the Author

David Whitehouse was born in 1981 and lives in London. His first novel, Bed, won the inaugural 2010 To Hell With Prizes Award for unpublished work, the 2012 Betty Trask Prize and has been published in eighteen countries. His journalism has appeared in the national press and he has undertaken TV and film projects as well.

Where to Buy

You can buy Mobile Library from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £7.99, ISBN no 9781447274711. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. We also have a large second-hand stock. First published by Picador in hardback in 2015; Picador paperback edition 2016.

Review: The Terrible Thing that happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

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I started reading Barnaby Brocket with very little expectation; surprising really, as I had read the author’s most well known children’s story, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, several years ago and found it an incredibly powerful, moving book. Barnaby Brocket, however, has just sat on the bookshop shelves and has not sold very well for me. Having not read it I haven’t felt particularly able to recommend it and it has languished forlornly in the children’s section.

So I suppose I felt sorry for it (this happens sometimes; I’m sure I’m not the only bibliophile to suffer from this affliction?) and it ended up in my ‘to read’ stack.

From the outside the book has two things to immediately recommend it: First, John Boyne – already mentioned for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas acclaim; and second, Oliver Jeffers – one of my all time favourite children’s book illustrators. (Aside: there will definitely be some future posts about Oliver Jeffers and his wonderful picture book creations).

The novel opens with Barnaby’s arrival into the world. Now, depending on the age of the reader, I thought this was unnecessarily detailed. Don’t worry, it’s still okay for a young reader, and younger children will tend to gloss over anything they do not understand, but I didn’t think it was necessary to even mention the screaming, perspiring, groaning, wailing and pushing. It isn’t mentioned in any detail but it could have been presented as fait accompli, hey presto, baby arrived.

From then on in I really enjoyed the book. Barnaby is born with an unusual characteristic – he floats. He literally cannot keep his feet on the ground without the aid of weights or a leash to keep him down. His parents are appalled by this condition. Both parents have spent the whole of their adult lives avoiding anything that would draw attention to themselves, leading a plain, what they consider normal, existence. They hate the thought of standing out from the crowd or appearing ‘different’ in any way. Barnaby’s condition does  not seem to be curable so his father, Alistair, affixes matresses to the ceilings and Barnaby is mostly kept indoors for the first few years of his life, so as not to cause embarrassment to his parents. When he’s old enough he is packed off to a dreadful institution that passes itself off as a school. His parents can’t bear the thought of him going to the local primary with his brother and sister – the comments, the pointing, the attention; oh no, that won’t do, so Barnaby goes to a school for ‘misfits’.

Due to a bit of a calamity at the aforementioned institution, he later has to join the local school where, after his condition is exposed on the TV on a school outing, Barnaby becomes something of a local celebrity. This is the final straw for Barnaby’s mother and she decides to act on a terrible thought that occurred to her the day she brought baby Baranby home from the hospital all those years ago… She decides to let him go, to float away…

Barnaby has some fantastic adventures. He misses his family dreadfully and is always trying to return home, despite what his parents have done; he loves them and he hopes that they will miss him and come to accept him the way he is.

‘Because they’re my family,’ said Barnaby with a shrug.

‘But they didn’t want you.’

‘But they’re still my family,’ repeated Barnaby, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. ‘And it’s not like I’m ever going to have another mum and dad, is it?’

On his travels Barnaby meets all sorts of other extraordinary people; people who are all a bit ‘different’. There are the two older ladies who live together and hold hands, the young pregnant girl whose father won’t speak to her, the artist whose wealthy parents have cast him out penniless for wanting to be an artist rather than a businessman, and then other children with characteristics that mark them out as different from other people.

This is a really good story about being different, about being unique and more importantly about being yourself. A warm, humorous and often funny novel. I would recommend it for readers aged 9+ though younger readers might enjoy it too.

About the Author

John Boyne was born in 1971 and is an Irish novelist, author of 9 novels for adults and 5 for children, including the runaway bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Other novels include The Absolutist and A History of Loneliness for adults and Stay Where You Are and Then Leave and The Boy at the Top of the Mountain for children.

Where to Buy

You can buy The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £6.99, ISBN no 9780552565769. Published by Random House Children’s Books in 2012.

Splintered by A. G. Howard

Last year, the 150th anniversary year of Alice in Wonderland, I researched the history of Alice, different editions of the books and more recent spin-off stories, to make an Alice feature window display and dedicated section in the bookshop.

When I was little I never got around to reading Alice in Wonderland, despite having a huge love of books and the ability to devour the shelves of my local and school libraries. The story had scared my Mum when she was young so it was a book that she never encouraged me to read. This influence stayed with me for many years but last year it was time to give Alice a chance. I think the story would have scared me when I was little but I really enjoyed meeting feisty, independent, girl-power Alice as an adult.

Splintered is one of the many young adult spin-off books that appealed to me so I bought myself a copy, added it to my (already immense) TBR pile and it sat there for a while until I found myself some serious reading time. I’ve just finished and want to share it with you straight away.

splintered book cover2
Splintered by A. G. Howard (Book 1)

Synopsis (from the book cover):
Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great-grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem.

To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland.

But no one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…

So, if you’ve read the reviews you will know that this book has had some really great AND some really bad press. I’m in the good camp. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering some of the critiques I’ve read. It’s well-written, fun, interesting, original, romantic… Alyssa is a (mostly) likeable 16-ish year old girl and her boy-next-door crush, Jeb, is pretty ok. Alyssa is a skate-boarding, not-very-girly girl but with a flair for gothic fashion, a love and loyalty for her Dad and a talent for creative art. I would have liked to meet a bit more of Alyssa’s best friend, Jenara, and bad-boy Morpheus – Alyssa’s guide to Wonderland – is an intriguing character of hidden depths and is hopefully a character to be explored in the sequels.

The story opens with Alyssa spearing dead insects and creating art projects with them; not an opening I was expecting. I was almost tempted to put the book down at this point as I have not a small amount of dislike for creepy crawlies and an even greater dislike of deliberate harm to living creatures; I didn’t think I could grow to like this Alyssa. However, I read on a few more pages and the story and writing style started to draw me in. Alyssa hears insects and flowers in her head; she hears them talking, carrying on full conversations. She has to wear an iPod nearly all the time to drown out their sounds and this makes her art project insect fetishes start to make a bit more sense.

Alyssa’s mom, Alison, has also suffered from hearing the voices and has been incarcerated in a mental hospital since Alyssa was a young child. I’m not spoiling the plot here as this comes up right at the beginning of the book. This is the one part of the book that grates with me. The depiction of the mental institution is pretty archaic, with padded cells, strait-jackets, physical restraint and permanent sedation being pretty much the norm. Howard calls the institution an ‘asylum’, a term which has been outdated since the turn of the nineteenth – twentieth century and it just does not sit well with the rest of the novel. Better research here would have enhanced the story no end – and would be less misleading to impressionable younger readers. Imagine having a family member suffer mental illness, needing hospital treatment, reading this as a young person and forming your impressions of care in mental hospitals from what you’ve read in this novel; it’s not a good thought. However, the asylum scenes do not form a huge part of the novel and if you can separate those scenes from the more creative Wonderland realm you will find Splintered a very good, page-turning read.

Wonderland comes to life in a dark and original way as Alyssa is drawn deeper and deeper into the customs and desires of the characters who live there and she becomes more and more central to their lives and destinies. It’s wacky – just like the Lewis Carroll original – and stretches all the bounds of reality; hey, it’s a fantasy novel. If you like fantasy worlds, dark fairies, Alice in Wonderland, teenage romance, or coming-of-age fiction, give it a shot and, like I say, please don’t dwell too much on the descriptions of mental illness or treatments. If I were to rate Splintered on a 1-10 scale I would give it a 7/10.

Splintered is the first of a trilogy – with another two short novellas available as separate stand alone add-ons – and I’ve ordered myself books two and three, Unhinged and Ensnared. I just NEED to know what happens to Jeb.

 

About the Author

A. G. Howard, full name Anita Grace Howard, lives in Texas, USA with her husband and teenage children.

Where to Buy

You can buy Splintered from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local to keep your High Streets alive.