Monday, 31 March 2008

A Hat Full of Sky

Couldn't resist, I had to read the next Tiffany Aching book straightaway. No backbone that's my trouble! ;-) And so my second book for Carl's Once Upon a Time II challenge is A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett.

Tiffany is now eleven years old. She hasn't done much witching since the events of the last book but she has taught herself the 'see me' trick - the art of stepping outside her body to view her appearance. Unfortunately, that kind of magic attracts attention and sometimes it's of the unwelcome variety. Tiffany is to leave the farm, accompanied by Miss Tick, her destination being the home of the witch, Miss Level, to whom she will be apprenticed. Unbeknowns to Tiffany and Miss Tick the Unwelcome Attention is not far behind. What does it want? Well, it needs a body to take over and the more powerful the better. Very soon, Tiffany will have to fight for the right to inhabit her own mind. Thankfully, she will not be alone, Granny Weatherwax and the Wee Free Men are there to help but this is one tough fight and ultimately it might all boil down to Tiffany...

I think I actually liked A Hat Full of Sky more than The Wee Free Men. There's not much in it mind, both are great fun, but maybe A Hat Full of Sky was just a tiny bit more exciting and what happened to Tiffany this time a bit more intriguing. The introduction of the coven for apprentices and their spiteful leader, Annagramma, was another delightful extra, imo, and there was far more Granny Weatherwax, who is one of my favourite Discworld characters. Death makes an appearance too of course, always a joy... I thought he appeared in every book but for the life of me I can't remember him in The Wee Free Men. Anyway, wonderful... a complete page turner. Sadly, I can't read the third book, Wintersmith, straight off as I don't have it. I'll have to wait until I can get it from my daughter. Hmph.

Other reviews of this book:


Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Wee Free Men

My first book for Carl's Once Upon a Time II challenge! It's good to have a foot on the first rung of the ladder so to speak and so pleasing that the first book was such a little gem.

The Wee Free Men is the first of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching/Wee Free Men series. It *is* a Discworld book and, a bit like the Sam Vimes books, is a series within a series. I'm sure that's perfectly clear... ;-p

The Aching family have lived on The Chalk for centuries. They're sheep farmers and Tiffany is the youngest daughter. Like Granny Aching before her she's quiet, a thinker, and possibly a little bit of a witch. Down by the river one day Tiffany sees a couple of very small blue men, just before something green and nasty rears out the water. Tiffany goes home to think about this and then comes back and uses her small brother as bait. The monster returns and Tiffany whacks it with her weapon of choice, the frying pan. Miss Tick, an actual witch, is watching from Another Place and is unable to believe her eyes. The Chalk can't breed good witches but it seems it has. Tiffany learns from Miss Tick that her life is in danger from something that is happening in her world and that that 'something' is leaking in from another world. The Wee Free Men are there to help her, not that it's help any normal person would choose, but beggars can't be choosers - not when your younger brother is stolen away and no one else has a clue where to look for him. Things are about to get very sticky indeed...

I can't think why I haven't read this Pratchett series before as I've read so many other Discworld novels. Darla at Books and other thoughts wrote about them recently and I realised they would be perfect for the Once Upon a Time II challenge. I had the sequel, A Hat Full of Sky, but not this first book, so had to borrow it from my daughter. I'm so glad I did. All the wonderful Pratchett humour is here (talking about the travelling teachers):

They went to sleep under the stars, which the maths teachers would count, the astronomy teachers would measure and the literature teachers would name. The geography teachers got lost in the woods and fell into bear traps.

Perhaps the 'geography teacher' thing is a purely British joke - it certainly made me giggle - and I continued to laugh all the way through, cheering Tiffany on and adoring The Wee Free Men and their antics. The ending is wonderful too as two much loved Discworld characters make a brief, but satisfying, appearance. It's no exaggeration to say that I absolutely loved this book and plan to read A Hat Full of Sky straight off and add the third book, Wintersmith, to my list for the challenge.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Spook's Curse

Well, it's certainly been a chilly Easter here in the UK. Here in Devon we haven't had a white Easter as some parts have but we've had a few flurries and it's been very cold. I've been busy with family most of the time and today is my first free day really, but I have found some time to read, thank goodness. I don't care for days when I can't find any time to read at all.

Anyway, I've just finished The Spook's Curse which is the sequel to The Spook's Apprentice which I blogged about here.

Thomas Ward has been the Spook's Apprentice for six months when the Spook announces that they will be travelling to a town called Priestown, where there is a job to be done. Tom is confused as the Spook normally goes out of his way to avoid this particular town, but it is clear that his master has unfinished business there, so they set off. Along the way Tom is told that in the catacombs of the cathedral in Priestown lives a creature called the Bane. This being is so dangerous it has been confined there for centuries. The Spook has never been able to defeat the Bane but now its influence is spreading as it has found a way to enter the dreams and minds of ordinary people above ground. The Spook must act before someone is made to release the Bane whereupon it will unleash untold damage on the people of the County. To add to their problems the Quisitor has arrived from down south. His mission is to rid the County of witches, warlocks and spooks and he has his sites set on the Spook. Could the situation be any more complicated? Yes... Tom's 'friend' Alice appears on the scene, but is she friend or foe? And can all three of them survive this latest challenge?

Another page-turner from Joseph Delaney. I'm so glad I picked this up at the library at the same time as I got the first book. Delaney maintains the pace and the creepiness and keeps you guessing about his characters and the outcome right until the end. More information is forthcoming too, about's Tom's mother, about the Spook, but not about Alice - her fate will no doubt be dealt with in a later book. I plan to keep reading anyway but now need to go on a mission to find the third book - there are four I believe, with the fifth out in June.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Anne of Green Gables

Yet another challenge book! This one covers two challenges, the What's in a Name? challenge being hosted by Annie, and Becky's Heart of a Child challenge. And the book is... Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

Brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, decide that help is needed on their farm and that a sensible thing to do would be to adopt an orphan boy to help out. All is arranged and Matthew goes to collect the boy from the station. Unfortunately, what he finds when he gets there is that there has been a mistake and a girl has been sent instead - Anne Shirley. On the way home shy Matthew and talkative Anne get acquainted and Matthew secretly hopes they can keep the girl, but the decision is not his; Marilla will decide. At first Marilla decides against it and even gets to the point of returning Anne. But she discovers that Anne, who up to now has had a tough life, is to be passed on to a shrew of a woman with a lot of children who just wants a slave. Marilla relents and decides to keep Anne. To grossly understate the matter, red-headed 'Anne' with an 'e' (as she insists) is a bit of a handful. She never stops talking, she's romantic, over-imaginative, and day-dreams to the point of forgetting her chores. She falls in and out of trouble at the drop of a hat but reassures her guardians that it's all right because she 'never makes the same mistake twice'! Matthew and Marilla's lives will never be the same again...

I can't say when it was I read this book, I'm thinking I must have been somewhere around 13 - 14. Weirdly, hardly a thing was familiar except for the beautiful setting of Prince Edward Island, off the coast of Canada. I know it made me want to go there (I never have but, well, you never know...) So, reading this was like discovering a new book entirely and I was completely and utterly charmed by it as most people who read it seem to be. It's very much a story about a way of life that has disappeared. It was not ruled by the motor car or the TV, people made their own entertainment and life was very much slower. They sang, did recitals of poetry, enjoyed the countryside, studied, read books etc. Anne is a very believable heroine with many faults - she makes mistakes but is never afraid to own up and confront her own shortcomings. I shed more than a few tears when reading this book, I don't mind admitting. I got totally wrapped up in Anne's childhood adventures, friends, adopted family. The book is nothing short of delightful. There are many more 'Anne' books and I fully intend reading every single one of them!

Other reviews:

Things mean a lot

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Once Upon a Time challenge

Well, here's the challenge I've been waiting for - Carl's latest Once Upon a Time challenge. I've been wondering if I ought to do it as I have other challenges on the go but it seems I can resist everything except temptation, so here we go.

The Once Upon a Time II Challenge is being hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. There are several different 'quests' based on four genres, Fantasy, Folklore, Fairy Tales and Mythology. I'm going to be doing Quest the First which is:

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time II criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

I've gathered together a pool of ten books that I'll choose my five from. I must admit I had a lot of fun choosing, I sometimes think that part of it is half the fun! Anyway, my books are as follows:

Across the Face of the World – Russell Kirkpatrick (fant.)
The Ivory and the Horn – Charles De Lint (urban fant.)
Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams (fant.)
Dragons of Autumn Twilight - M. Weis and T. Hickman (fant.)
Beauty – Robin McKinley (fairy tales)
Temeraire – Naomi Novik (hist. fant.)
Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb (fant.)
The Wee Free Men – Terry Pratchett (YA fantasy/humour)
A Hat Full of Sky – Terry Pratchett (YA fantasy/humour)
Wintersmith - Terry Pratchett (YA fantasy/humour

Extra Books read:

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents - Terry Pratchett
Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

To the tell the truth I'd like to read all of them but am not sure how realistic that hope is. We'll see, I can only do my best and I'm sure whatever I manage it'll be a lot of fun trying.

Monday, 17 March 2008

A quote and Close Kin - Clare B. Dunkle

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails... and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

--Anonymous 'curse' on book thieves from the monastry of San Pedro, Barcelona.

I don't know about you, but I know 'exactly' what the monks are driving at. LOL! Quote found in A Passion for Books edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan which, for those who love books about books, is an absolute gem.


Okay then, well Close Kin is the second book in The Hollow Kingdom trilogy, the first book of which I blogged about here. I liked it so much I ordered the last two straight away from Amazon.

Briefly, the story picks up a few years after the end of The Hollow Kingdom. The Goblin King, Marak, and Kate are married and have a son. (Sorry, that's a bit spoilerish but I can't see how I can avoid it.) Kate's sister, Em, is happily ensconced in the Goblin Kingdom, not thinking of marriage at all, when Marak's protegé, shape-shifter, Seylin, proposes. Not taking him seriously Em declines and Seylin, devastated, decides to go off into the outside world on a mission. His real self is very beautiful and elf-like in appearance and he decides to look for remnants of the long extinct elf tribes. Too late, realising her mistake, Em takes off after him with a cranky female goblin teacher and a part human urchin boy she picked up in the last book. She has some lessons to learn but then so does Seylin when his mission eventually come to fruition.

A few reviews I've seen describe this as the weakest of the three books. Not having read the third yet I can't judge, I do know though that I enjoyed this one every bit as much as the first. So there you go. I liked its humour, its pacey plot, the characters are all very real with weaknesses as well as strengths and I liked the satisfying ending. I have no complaints whatsoever. Excellent. :-)


When we are collecting books, we are collecting happiness -- Vincent Starrett

I couldn't agree more. I'm currently reading Anne of Green Gables and am very happy indeed. :-)

Monday, 10 March 2008

Enid Blyton for The Heart of a Child Challenge

I've been reading these two books over the past couple of weeks for The Heart of a Child challenge run by Becky at Becky's book reviews. The reason I chose these two, The Valley of Adventure and The Castle of Adventure, both by Enid Blyton, is because they're two books I grew up with as a child. (These are not the actual copies I hasten to add.) Ours was not a reading household, we were a rare thing in those days (the 1950s and 60s), a one parent family, and there just wasn't the money for buying books. These two belonged to my brother and I have to admit I covetted them. This envy lasted a year or so until my reading level was good enough to cope with them, I would have been eight or nine I suppose, and then my brother let me have them as he was by then too old for them. And thus started my childhood love affair with the books of Enid Blyton, particularly this series of 'Adventure' books involving the characters of Philip, his sister Dinah, Jack, his sister Lucy-Ann and Jack's parrot, Kiki.

This story starts with the children excited about going for night-time trip in Bill Smugs' plane. Bill is a policeman they are friendly with who has recently learnt to fly. Due to a mix-up they end up on the wrong plane, shots are fired outside on the tarmac, the plane takes off and the children, hiding behind some crates, quickly realise they've been taken off by criminals who don't know they're there. When the pane lands they manage to sneak off and see that they've landed in a remote valley surrounded by mountains. They head upwards and find themselves a cave near a waterfall to hide out in. They spy on the criminals, pinch their food and generally make a nuisance of themselves until things take a more serious turn when they discover the criminals have a prisoner. They're ill-treating him and thus the children eventually discover what actually *is* going on.

This second book starts with Dinah and Lucy-Ann waiting to go home at the start of the school holidays and looking forward to seeing their brothers. The children all live with Phillip and Dinah's mother who has hired a cottage in a hilly region (my guess was Wales but they didn't actually say) for the holidays. When the children arrive they're excited to discover a castle at the top of the hill but disappointed when they're told not to go near it because it's too dangerous; there has been a landslide and the place could collapse. Of course, that doesn't put them off! Jack's eagerness to find an eagle's nest takes them to the castle which seems impregnable until they eventually find a way in helped by Tassie, a local urchin. It's a creepy place, made even creepier by the fact that they soon realise the castle is occupied when they had been told it was abandoned. Jack gets permission to spend a couple of nights up there trying to photograph his golden eagle family and that's when the adventure really begins.

It was fascinating reading these two books after what must be almost 50 years. I read quite a lot of YA fiction now and it was interesting to compare modern books for children and ones written 60 years ago. A couple of things quickly became apparent. Firstly, how much more freedom children had in those days. These children were aged 11 to about 14 and wandered willy-nilly all over the place, unsupervised, all day and sometimes at night. They also had an unmarried male friend of mature years and no one thought anything of it. I fancy they would these days. The other thing I noticed was how much more interesting the boys were than the girls. Blyton gave the two boys hobbies such as bird watching (Jack) and a fascination with animals (Phillip). The girls apparently did nothing. Did Blyton prefer boys to girls? I believe she had two daughters so I find that hard to believe. But it did seem to me that the boys definitely played the major role and the girls were almost 'allowed to tag along'. I tried to remember her other series which I also read avidly but only The Famous Five came readily to mind. One girl in that who played a major role in adventures was 'George' but George was a girl who very definitely wanted to be a *boy*. So make of that what you will.

Of course none of this was apparent to an eight year old discovering adventure fiction for the first time. I devoured Enid Blyton books like there was no tomorrow; talk about escapism from a hum-drum life! And now my grandaughter is reading them and it's great fun chatting to her about exactly these books because she clearly loves them too. I am glad though that Enid Blyton is not all she reads, we all make sure she reads a variety of authors because I really don't want her getting the idea that boys have all the fun and are somehow *better*.

All that said... I *did* enjoy my trip down memory lane with Enid Blyton.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Spook's Apprentice

I've been waiting for this book to reappear in our library for quite some time. My daughter recommended it, I knew I'd seen it there but the minute I went to look for it, it disappeared. Typical! Anyway, The Spook's Apprentice, a young adult book by Joe Delaney, was well worth the wait but I nabbed it just in time... when I checked online I saw that someone else is now waiting for it.

Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son. His parents are farmers in Lancashire, not well off, so Tom will have to make his own way in life as the farm is already being run by his elder brother. His mother decides to apprentice him to the local Spook, the man who protects villagers around from all kinds of dangerous individuals such as boggarts and witches. Tom isn't mad about the idea, Spooks are shunned by society in general, but his brother makes it obvious that, at thirteen, Tom is not welcome around the farm anymore - thus giving him very little choice in the matter. He sets off with the Spook and has to prove himself in a haunted house before they arrive at the Spook's home. Some weeks later the Spook is called away and Tom meets Alice. Alice has 'pointy shoes', something the Spook has warned Tom to avoid - girls with pointy shoes that is - but Tom ignores his advice and is tricked into setting free Old Mother Malkin, a witch confined underground by the Spook, and with a reputation too horrible to contemplate. Tom's troubles have only just begun.

This book is a pretty quick read, partly because it's not long, but also because you can't put it down! It's very good and I understand completely why it's so popular. For a young adult book it is actually genuinely creepy in places and has some ideas that maybe wouldn't be suitable for children under 12 or so to read. The writing is pacey, spare, and to the point, not a lot of time wasted with inconsequentials... perfect for teenage boys I would imagine (and grandmas who like good YA fantasy and horror. :-)) There are about six in the series, I have the second already on the library pile (thought I'd better grab it while it was there) and will definitely read all of them.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

A Monstrous Regiment of Women

I wish I could remember who first recommended the Mary Russell series, by Laurie R. King, to me. It's a while ago, I do know that, probably a couple of years. I didn't actually read the first one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, until I got a Blogspot journal and found several people here were big fans, Pat, Nan, Kay... I think and there may be more. Anyway, on their recommendation I read the first one last year and have just finished the second, A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Mary Russell is now twenty one, and about to come into her not inconsiderable inheritance. She's finished her degree but still at Oxford studying, lecturing etc. Her relationship with the retired Sherlock Holmes is still a working, platonic one, but to Mary's consternation she finds her feelings towards him changing and becoming rather intense. At the same time a chance meeting with an old friend from university brings her into contact with Margery Childe. Margery is the enigmatic leader of The New Temple of God, a sect involved in feminism and helping disadvantaged woman. A good thing then? Possibly. Mary is uneasy about the set-up and takes her worries to Sherlock Holmes. Things escalate when one of the sect's wealthy followers is murdered, whereupon Mary discovers that a couple of others have also died in suspicious circumstances. With Holmes' help Mary sets about investigating and it isn't long before she herself is in mortal danger.

When I read the blurb about this second book I thought that maybe I wouldn't find a mystery about a religous sect that much to my taste. Well, I finished it in two days so judge for yourself how rivetting I found it. ;-) What kept me turning the pages? Well, Laurie King writes the Edwardian era really well. She also writes Sherlock Holmes very well, and in Mary Russell she has a heroine every bit his equal. Mary is bookish, intelligent, independent and not very 'girly'. She loves to dress up in men's clothes and solve crimes and isn't remotely intimidated by the intellect of Sherlock Holmes. Some might find the eventual romantic attachment of these two not to their taste - there is a huge age gap. Personally, I like the older man, younger woman thing in fiction, so am not remotely worried by it and these two are *very* suited to one another. In short, I think this series is wonderful and am so happy someone, whoever it was, introduced me to it.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Dreams Underfoot - Charles De Lint

I've been reading this anthology since mid-January, the reason being partly that I'm going in for more relaxed reading this year but also that these stories are made to be savoured, in my opinion. They encourage a laid-back sort of enjoyment that you don't often come across - Alexander McCall Smith is one such too, I find. Anyway, this is my first book for the Cardathon Challenge, being that the list of books suitable says, 'Anything by Charles De Lint'.

This is the book many fans of De Lint's 'Newford' series suggest you start with if you're going to read this urban fantasy series. I don't know if that's right or wrong, only that it seemed to give me an excellent introduction to the people that inhabit this universe. 'Newford' is a city, peopled by all kinds of weird and wonderful characters who recur and are connected throughout the books. Christy Riddell, a writer and collector of folk tales and myths, is a focal point but so is a friend of his, Jilly Coppercorn, who is close to Christy's brother, Geordie. Their friends come into it and there are many stand alone stories but always there is a link somewhere. And always there are fantastic things going on that shouldn't be real but just might be... It sounds confusing but I can promise you it's not. If anyone had told me I would read and love urban fantasy this much I would have laughed at them, but I do! I certainly plan to read a lot more in this series and am waiting for The Ivory and the Horn to arrive as we speak. So pleased to have discovered these books.