book related, Children's books

Book Conference 2022!

Four years ago now I wrote a post about my weekend at the Bristol Book Conference. We should have been back there in 2020, but we all know what happened in 2020 so it’s been four years before my second weekend of fun and frolics with other aficionados of Twentieth Century Books for Girls. As you saw yesterday I came home with a big old pile of books, but what else did we get up to?

Well the theme this time was Eccentrics, Oddballs and Misfits and as there are plenty of those in these books there was plenty to talk about! Gum from Ballet Shoes got a mention, and we had a whole talk on the basically insane Oeuvre of Rita Coutts – it sounded so mad I bought myself one to see for myself!

As you know my gateway books to the genre were The Chalet School, Drina and Sadlers Wells – which were the series that were still in print in paperback when I was about the right age. So one of the joys for me is discovering new to me authors that were already collectible hardbacks when I was little.

But also it’s talking to the people. There are not many people that I can make jokes about singing people better out of comas with, but this weekend there were nearly 100 of them! And they all want to talk to you about their favourite book or tell you why you’re wrong to thing that Professor Richardson (who single handed builds his own rocket to try to fly to the moon) is the most eccentric character in the genre…

Anyway, it was a wonderful weekend -even if my team didn’t win the quiz – and we’ve already made some suggestions for possible talks in 2024. Oh and I’ve got a new WhatsApp group of friends to chat to. Delightful.

The pile

Books Incoming: Book Conference haul!

Here it is, here is the post conference book haul. I mean nothing says “I had a great time” like nearly two dozen books. You’ll see I acquired a lovely copy of Ballet Shoes – which I think is the same edition I read when I first read it at primary school. Then there are a couple books from boarding school series that I haven’t read all of yet, the four Chalet School books which are to upgrade my Armada collection, one of the Swallows and Amazons hardbacks that I’m missing, a non-Sadlers Wells Lorna Hill, a bunch of standalone books of various types and then a small haul of British Library Crime Classics because how could I resist them. Just lovely. I’ve already read a couple of them…

Children's books, children's books, series, Series I love, Uncategorized

Series I Love: Swallows and Amazons

As it’s been a week of Girls Own content, lest carry it on with another classic children’s series – this time an adventure one for boys and girls.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, they follow a group of children going on outdoor adventures during the school holidays. There are three families – the Walkers (the Swallows), the Blacketts (the Amazons) and the Callums (the Ds) – who appear in various configurations across the series, but the opening books (which are my favourites) mostly centre on the Walkers and the Blacketts who start off as rivals but become friends. Sailing is often involved – and many of the books are set in and around the Lake District in the North West of England.

I first encountered the Swallows and the Amazons when my Year 3 teacher read the first book out loud to our class and I carried on reading most (if not all) of the rest of the series by borrowing them from my local library. What’s not to love about a group of children going off to camp on an island and sail around a lake all summer long. There’s “pirates” and actual crime and it’s just wonderful. Let’s be honest, which child didn’t wish they’d had a grown-up free holiday or two, or been allowed to roam around without supervision for days on end – I think it’s one of the reasons why Secret Island was one of my favourites of the Enid Blyton series when I was little.

I should say at this point that I am not by any means an outdoors person. We never went camping when I was a child, so when I was first reading these the idea sounded fun – I think I “camped” on the floor of my bedroom for a few weeks after reading the first book, but I was not a big walker or hiker. I also suffered from travel sickness so being on a boat of any size was always pretty awful, but I loved the books – and still continue to enjoy them whenever I get a chance for a re-read. There’s something about children with a secret code between themselves and who go on what are basically quests that just really appeals. Also you learn a lot about various countryside-y things from the mid 20th century – most of what I know about charcoal smoking and dowsing for water comes from this series – which of course means I’m hopelessly out of date, but I didn’t know that at the time.

There are a couple of books in the series that get a bit weird – and as with a lot of books of similar era, there are some bits that haven’t aged well. I probably should have had a reread before I posted this – but I remember that I found Missee Lee very weird when I read it when I was about 10. And I don’t own all of them – I have some from when I was little and I’m picking the others up as I see nice copies at sensible prices. But I do own the first two on audio book and have listened to their fairly regularly. I treated myself to Pigeon Post (my other childhood fave) the other week and it’s next on my to listen list.

The first book has been turned into a film twice – it’s been a while since I saw the original film, but I remember it as being fairly true to the actual plot. I have seen the most recent one has had a fair few alterations to the plot – and not just the fact that they renamed the unfortunate to modern ears Titty. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself from the trailers!

Anyway, delightful outdoors fun, even if pemmican – real or fake – sounds disgusting!

Happy Friday everyone one!

mystery, new releases

Out today: The Twist of the Knife

After a theatre themed post yesterday, I’ve got another theatre-set book because this is out today! The Twist of the Knife is the latest in the other Anthony Horowitz meta-detective series. In the Atticus Pund series you have a book about murder in a book about murder. In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, you have a fictional Anthony Horowitz getting involved in solving murders and writing a book about the process. This is the fourth book and sees Horowitz himself the main suspect in a murder after a critic is stabbed to death after giving Horowitz’s new play a terrible review. It’s really clever – it’s incredibly meta as Horowitz references the need to write the Moonflower Murders while he’s trying to slice the murder. Obviously you should start reading these at the start of the series, but if you’ve enjoyed the earlier mysteries, I think you will enjoy this one. My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out in the shops today in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.


detective, mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books set in Theatres

As you know, it was Book Conference over the weekend, so it seemed like this week’s Recommendsday should be related to Girl’s Own in some way. We had a post about mysteries set in boarding schools not that long ago, so today I’m doing books set in theatres – not all mysteries, not all Girls Own!

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

I am going to start with a Girl’s Own book though – because Noel Streatfeild wrote a lot of books with heroines who were involved in the theatre. Ballet Shoes is the most famous though, and has one of the great eccentrics of the genre too in Great Uncle Matthew – or Gum – who is a fossil collector who turns traveller after he is injured and starts collecting babies instead (don’t worry, it makes more sense in the book). When he goes missing while travelling and the money starts to run out, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil (but mostly Pauline because she’s the oldest) use their acting and dancing skills to earn some extra money. It’s charming, it’s got great details about the backstage life of children in the theatre and all the secondary characters are wonderful too. And it’s still in print nearly 90 years after it was first published.

Cinderella Goes to the Morgue by Nancy Spain

This follows on quite nicely from Ballet Shoes, as it’s a satirical murder mystery that features exactly the sort of show that the Fossil girls star in as juveniles. In Cinderella Goes to the Morgue Spain’s regular heroines, Miriam and Natasha, are taking part in a pantomime in a fictional town in the provinces; with a local mayor who seems to be more involved in the theatre than in running the town. There are murders, but as with Nancy Spain’s other mysteries, it’s more about the absurdity than it is about solving the crime.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Brighton in 1950, there is something about the crime which reminds Detective Inspector Stephens of a magic trick. He seems the help of the trick’s inventor, the magician Max Mephisto, who he also happens to have served with in a secretive unit in the war. This is the first in the series which sees Edgar and Max investigating various crimes, some with a theatrical link, some while Max is juggling a job in the theatre. They’re not precisely cozy historicals, but they’re not exactly radically gruesome either – think Agatha Christie at her darkest. I’ve read the first three in the series, but there are three more now – with another out in the autumn.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

This has featured in a Recommendsday before, but it was five years ago so it’s well outside the statute of limitations! Nora and Dora Chance are the illegitimate twin daughters of a pillar of the theatrical establishment. They’re about to turn 75 – on the same day that their father is 100. Oer the course of the novel Dora tells the story of their lives before they head to the televised party that’s being thrown for their father. It’s got a huge cast of characters that might take you a while to get your head around and add to that the fact that it’s a magical realist sort of thing too. It was turned into a play a few years ago – which was shown on TV during the Covid Times (it might have been at Christmas, but all time merged into one back then) and I can confirm that the play was as mindbending and strange as the book is.

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

I couldn’t resist adding this in – even though I’ve written plenty about Terry Pratchett’s books before. Maskerade is Terry’s take on Phantom of the Opera, except with witches and it’s just glorious. Agnes Nitt is a Lancre girl in the big city – singing the leading parts from the back row of the chorus while a prettier soprano mouths along. But when the Ankh Morpork Opera Theatre Ghost starts killing people, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax head for the big city to try and keep her alive. Just writing that has made me want to read it again!

And let’s finish with some other theatre-y books that I’ve written about before – Acting Up and the other books in Adele Buck’s series are all theatre-set romances. And you could probably count Circus of Wonders and The Night Circus under this heading (if you squint a bit!). There’s also a whole string of Inspector Alleyn books that are set in the theatre – including the final one, The Light Thickens, but also earlier in the series Vintage Murder, Enter a Murderer and Opening Night and several others that feature actors or actresses but aren’t actually doing the killing in a theatre- including one of my favourites Final Curtain. For kids there’s also a theatre set entry in the Wells and Wong mystery series – Death in the Spotlight which has plenty of nods to the Alleyns if you’ve read them. And of course there’s the previously mentioned Girl’s Own ballet series – Sadlers Wells and Drina.

Happy Wednesday!

American imports, binge reads, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Thank You for Listening

Taking a break from the Girls Own and book conference related content for this week’s book of the week. This is another recent release – the same day as Husband Material in fact – and one that I had heard a lot of buzz about and discovered was on offer while I was writing the August offers Recommendsday post.

Thank you for Listening is a romantic comedy about a former actress who became an audiobook narrator after an accident halter her on screen career. When Sewanee is sent to an audiobook convention by her boss she has a whirlwind night in Vegas with a mystery man. But when she returns to California, she finds an offer to narrate a beloved romance novelist’s final book. The trouble is, she doesn’t do romance novels any more, but money could pay for her beloved grandmother’s nursing home care so she resurrects her old pseudonym and starts recording the book with one of the genres hottest and most secretive male narrators, Brock McKnight. There’s a steady back and forth of chatter between them, but as secrets are revealed, can Sewanee get the happily ever after that she doesn’t believe in?

Julia Whelan is a renowned audiobook narrator so this is is filled with insider titbits from her experience as well as being a love letter to the romance genre. They even joke about how many tropes they’re ticking off more than once. And it’s a delight. Swan is an intriguing leading character, with a complicated family and some issues to deal with. And the shadowy and mysterious Brock has great banter. And, well, it’s very well put together – with a swoony ending and a nod and a wink to fans of the genre. What more could you want.

If I could have read this in one sitting I would have – but unfortunately I had to go to work, so instead I decided not to go to the theatre one of my London nights and instead read this on the sofa at the hostel, and then in my bunk when it got too noisy. No greater testament really.

My copy of Thank You For Listening came from Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99. It’s also on Kobo for the same price and available in paperback from Thursday – although how easily it will be to actually find I don’t know – Waterstones (Foyles’ owners) are having some distribution issues. I will try and remember to check Foyles’ romance section a few weeks after release…

Happy reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: August 8 – August 14

Two nights in London for work? Check. Three nights at book conference? Check. More chatting than book reading? Check. I mean I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about my weekend talking Girl’s Own books, but today basically all you need to know is that I mostly listened to talks about books and bought books rwther than actually reading them!


Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

No Castanets at the Wells by Lorna Hill


Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais

Still reading:

Godemersham Park by Gill Hornby*

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Another Time, Another Place by Jodi Taylor

Femina by Janina Ramirez*

Castle Shade by Laurie R King

Going With the Boys by Judith Mackrell

The Twist of the Knife by Anthony Horowitz*

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra*

About 20 actual books and a couple of ebooks too. And I’m not even sorry about it!

Bonus photo: a return to student life for the weekend!

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley.

book adjacent, film, not a book

Not a Book: Parent Trap

To keep the children’s book theme going while I’m at conference, today’s not a book is one of my favourite children films – which also happens to be based on a middle grade book!

Let’s make something clear to start with: I’m talking about the Hayley Mills Parent Trap. Yes I’ve watched the Lindsay Logan version, but by the time that came out I had already seen the original and I was not about to be won over! I first stumbled over the second half of this film on tv one weekend afternoon when I was an early teen and was astonished to find a film that seemed to have the plot of one of my favourite books from primary school – except set in America. The book in question is Erich Kästner’s Lottie and Lisa – which I had been borrowing as my reading book from the school library about once a term (maybe more) since I had finished the reading grade levels. I think it might have been the first time that I’d come across a book adaptation that had really been adapted and changed for the film. Or at least the first time I realised I had! And apologies if you’ve never see the film – because the trailer does do the entire plot, but hey.

Instead of 1930s Vienna, we’re in contemporary America but our two separated at birth twins still meet at camp. In the book they’re younger than the movie’s thirteen going on fourteen, but the plan is the same – switch places and meet the parent they don’t remember and try to engineer a reconciliation. And yes, as a rational adult I know that splitting up twins when they’re tiny and never telling them that the other exists is wrong, but oh boy do I love it as a plot. And because it’s Disney their lives look glossy and fabulous. Sharon lives in a fancy house in Boston with her mum, delightful grandpa and uptight grandma but Susan lives on a California ranch with a lake that she swims in, her own horse and what would be called now an indoor/outdoor life style. It just looks so cool. Why wouldn’t the twins want to get their parents back together so they can stay at the ranch forever.

I also love Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith as the warring parents. They’re not bit characters in Sharon and Susan’s story – they’ve got proper plot and a love story of their own. In fact I’d argue that O’Hara’s Maggie is the best part – with great outfits and all the best lines as she does her part in outfoxing her ex’s new girlfriend. Just try to ignore the bit where she punches Mitch in the eye! And then there’s the technical achievement of getting Haley Mills to play two characters at once in the pre-CGI era. It was like magic – and the explainer video on my DVD of how they did it is fascinating. It’s such a technical achievement.

Honestly I could go on for hours about how much I love this film, but I’ve written enough and now I need to stop because I want to go and watch it again on Disney+!

Have a great Sunday everyone.

The pile

Books incoming: August Edition

A much smaller pile this month – partly because the Persephone subscription has finished and there was a strange lack of preorders but mostly because I was trying to restrain myself before book conference! Who knows what I will come home with. Anyway, I picked up Rhode Island Red on a whim after getting it suggested to me by Amazon. I ordered it from Foyles though, and after I’d read it and enjoyed it, picked up the second book when I popped into the shop the other week. Piglettes also came from that trip. And then After Sappho and I want to die but I want to eat Tteokpokki were in that same Foyles order as Rhode Island Red. It was a day of poor impulse control. What can I say!

Children's books, Series I love

Series I Love: Sadlers Wells

I am off to book conference this weekend, so in honour of all the fun I’ll be having, this week’s series I love post is a Girls Own one.

Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells series follows a series of young women as they embark upon careers in dancing. The first book, A Dream of Sadlers Wells was first published in 1950 and follows newly orphaned Veronica Weston as she tries to carry on learning ballet despite having moved to live with her cousins in Northumberland. The second book follows Veronica as she embarks upon her training at Sadlers Wells ballet school (now the Royal Ballet) and the other books in the series all follow girls who have a link to Veronica somehow.

Despire being clumsy and coordinated, I loved ballet books when I was a child and moved on to Sadlers wells after I had started on the Drina series – as both had reissues at about the right time for me. But the Sadlers Wells ones were harder to find – and didn’t go the whole way to the end of the series, so some of the later ones I’ve only read in the last five or so years. And the end of the series isn’t a good as the start, but the first half dozen or so are just great. Because they focus on different people you also get glimpses of your old favourites as you carry on. In fact a bit like romance series, some of them set up the next heroine in the previous book!

And where Drina is a city girl through and through, nervously learning to love the Chiltern when she’s sent to school there for a term, she is worried about getting injured and ruining her dance career (and she does indeed twist her ankle at one point) the women of the Wells books embrace the outdoors. Veronica, Caroline, Jane and Mariella romp around the countryside on their ponies, swim in lakes and clamber around the hills. They made me want to visit Northumberland – although not learn to ride a horse.

It’s only thinking about it as an adult that I realise that, like many Girls Own books of the era, they’re subtly quite subversive in their way. In the first two books, Veronica refuses to give up her ambitions of a dancing career in the face of various trials and tribulations – but also in the face of a potential love interest. Sebastian is a musical prodigy and in one quite awful speech when he’s trying to persuade Veronica not to go to London, he says that women don’t have to have careers and could (and maybe should) leave it to the men. But Veronica carries on – and gets the success and the love too. In the later books you can see her and Sebastian, married but she’s still dancing. And if they don’t do a very good of listening to their daughter Vicki, they don’t really do a worse job than any of the other parents in the book! But the message is there – girls don’t have to just grow up and get married, they can do things and have a career too.

Happy weekend everyone.