Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Dimsie, Head Girl

For this week’s BotW, we’re back in the world of the boarding school books that I love so much, after I happened upon this on the collectible shelf of the charity shop last week for the bargain price of £2.  My love of the Chalet School, Drina books and boarding school and ballet books in general is well known, but I’d never had a chance to read any of the Dimsie series – which was out of print by the time I was old enough to read them.  This is the sixth book in the series, and so probably not the best place to start, but I’m not one to let a trifle like that stop me!

Colour illustration from the front of Dimsie, Head Girl
Who hasn’t felt a bit confused when reading a Girl’s Own book? The illustration is lovely though.

Dimsie is a prefect at Jane Willard Foundation, and the start of this book sees the prefects shaken by the unexpected departure of the head girl Erica and her replacement with the dreamy second prefect Jean.  The title gives it away that Jean’s reign may not be a long one, but it’s a lot of fun watching how it all unfolds.  Dimsie is a butter-inner, slightly lacking in tact, but utterly devoted to her school.  When she sees that Jean isn’t pulling her weight in the way that she should be, she tries to set the Head girl on the right track.  When one of the new prefects proves to be too officious and inflexible in her dealings with the younger girls, it’s Dimsie who tries to sort the situation out.  To be honest, I’m surprised she wasn’t Erica’s replacement in the first place – except for the fact of course that that if she had, the author wouldn’t have had a book!

It wouldn’t be a boarding school book without the Middles causing trouble – here it takes the form of insubordination to the prefects, illegal pet keeping and midnight feasts.  What more could you want?  And yes, this is a slightly higher level of spoilers than I usually give out – but to be honest, I can’t  imagine that many of you are going to be able to lay your hands on a copy of this!  Which is a shame really, because it’s not half bad – some of it is funny in a way the author didn’t intend but that’s one of the joys of reading a book written for children in the 1920s now!  It does have some of the usual problems of outdated language and a very homogeneous cast, but that’s sadly to be expected in a children’s book of this era and it’s by no means as bad as some.

My copy of Dimsie, Head Girl
Im inclined to think that this was a proper bargain for £2.

This was my Dorita Fairlie Bruce book, and I suspect it won’t be my last – I’ve already been playing on the used book websites to see if I can find more.  Because of course what I need at the moment is more books.  Of course it is.  The big worry is if it sends me off down another rabbit hole of classic school story authors that I haven’t read.

Happy reading!

Authors I love, children's books, cozy crime, crime, Fantasy, romance

My Big Obessions of 2016

As regular readers will know, I’m a binge reader.  I find someone or something new that I like and I gorge on it.  One of the big reasons my to-read pile never seems to shrink is because I’m forever discovering new series and then buying them up to read and ignoring the stuff waiting on the pile. We’ve already revisited last year’s obsessions, and so to mark the end of the year here are my big obsessions of 2016.

Fahrenheit Press

Lets start with the obvious.  And yes, I know. You’ve heard so much from me about Fahrenheit Press this year that you’re starting to think they’re paying me (they’re not) but I could basically have written this whole post obsessing over their books.  But I’m trying to be restrained, so I’m only giving them one entry.  There is something about the books that they publish that just works for me.  They’re not all the same but they work as a group.  I haven’t read all the books that I’ve got through my subscription yet, but everything I have has that same slightly subversive, sideways look at what it’s doing – whether it’s old series they’re republishing (like Sam Jones) or new ones (like Danny Bird).  The truly excellent thing about this particular obsession is that I bought their subscription early in the year, so it’s been excellent value and they’re an ebook publisher so it hasn’t been adding to the actual physical pile. And as I’ve already bought a 2017 subscription I suspect I may be boring you all about them again well into the year.

Girls Own fiction

I’ve always been a sucker for a boarding school story and spent much of my childhood playing made up games about being at one (despite the fact that I’m fairly sure in reality I would have hated it), but until this year my reading in the genre has centred around the authors that were still in print when I was small (so Elinor M Brent Dyer, Enid Blyton, Anne Digby).  In 2016 I’ve managed to lay my hands on some who are more forgotten – like Mabel Esther Allen, Gwendoline Courtney and the downright obscure like Phylis Matthewman – as well as filling in more gaps in my favourites (like the end of Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells series) and some modern fill in titles for my favourite series and it’s been glorious. Some of them are just great stories, some of them are so bad it’s funny and often you’re reading them giving side eye.  I wouldn’t necessarily lend them to a child now, but for me personally they’re a fabulous escape from the misery of every day life.  In Boarding School-land bad deeds are found out, no one is ever bullied, and everyone loves their school in the end (if they don’t, they’re probably A Bad Influence and may not return next term).   I’m still not really into horse books and there’s only so much Guides I can take, but I’ll try anything – up to and including books about girls who want to be kennel maids…

The Chronicles of St Mary’s series

I don’t know how this had passed me by before.  In case you’ve missed it too, The Chronicles of St Mary‘s follows Madeleine Maxwell and her colleagues at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research – historians who have time machines and use them to go and investigate what really happened in the past.  It doesn’t often go to plan.  It’s made me laugh, it’s made me cry and it’s made me go and check up on some other periods in history that are out of my comfort zone.*  I stumbled across one of the free novellas on audible and listened to it on one of my jaunts to the Youth Hostel back in March and fell in love.  I went back to the start been working my way through the series since, but have been trying to pace myself so I don’t run out of books.  I’ve got just finished book six and I’ve got book seven waiting for me on my Kindle – but book eight isn’t out until July so I’m trying to control myself.

Sarah Morgan

I will confess to not having read any Sarah Morgan before I met her at Sarah MacLean’s London tea party in May and got a goody bag with one of her books in it.  Without that goody bag, I’m not sure I would ever have picked up one of her books, but I’ve read six novels and a prequel novella now, and have an advance copy of her next one on the stack and another few of her backlist on the kindle having picked them up on offer.  They  challenge my ideas about what I do and don’t read.  Morgan’s background is in category romance, which I haven’t really read since I glommed on a box of old-school Mills and Boons at my Granny’s house when I was about 12.  I don’t think that I would read a medical romance (which is what Morgan started out writing as she was a nurse) and I definitely don’t do secretaries and billionaires, but it turns out that I do like contemporary romances where smart, sassy women meet their perfect matches. Because I’ve enjoyed Sarah Morgan’s books I’ve ventured further into some of the other contemporary romance authors I’ve heard mentioned on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  And if the spines say Mills and Boon, at least the cover designs aren’t cringey any more!

Books with Brontes

This seems bonkers considering the fact that I’ve never read Wuthering Heights all the way through, and haven’t read Jayne Eyre since I was  about 9, but this year seems to have been the year of me reading books featuring the Brontes in some shape or form. I think I’ve read about half a dozen now.  Some have been amazing, like The Madwoman Upstairs or Jane Steele, some have been less so, none have made me want to re-read Jane Eyre (but lets face it, if Thursday Next couldn’t manage that, I don’t think anything will) or have another go at Wuthering Heights, but I’ve enjoyed them and done some more reading around the Brontes.  I think perhaps it’s because I don’t know much about them or their books that I enjoy them so much – there’s not much chance of me spotting mistakes or inconsistencies!  And on top of all this, Trisha Ashley’s next novel, which I’m lucky enough to have an advance copy of, is set in Bronte country as well!

So there you have it, my bookish obsessions of 2016. Place bets now on what might make the list in 12 months time.

*My comfort zone being Western European history post 1485, with a strong preference for post 1750.

Book of the Week, children's books, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Lumberjanes Vol 3

As I mentioned yesterday, I did a lot of hours at work last week and not as much reading as I had been hoping, but graphic novels featured heavily in what did get read.  But before I talk about this week’s BotW I just wanted to mention that I’m reviewing on Novelicious again today – if you want to see what I thought about Mary Balogh’s latest Someone to Love you can click here.  With that shameless bit of self-promotion over, lets talk about Lumberjanes Volume Three: A Terrible Plan.

Lumberjanes Volume 3
Do you like my pretty checked table cloth? It was my granny’s and seemed appropriate!

I’ve mentioned Lumberjanes here before in last year’s Christmas books for kids post and it continues to be a great fun, hundred miles an hour journey through summer at a slightly eccentric camp for girls.  The adventures are bonkers, the characters are great and the underlying messages are nothing but positive.  In this volume we join our intrepid heroines as they try to earn badges and escape from dinosaurs (which totally makes sense in the context of the book) whilst we find out more about what some of the girls’ lives are like at home and their feelings about themselves.

This has some different artists to some of the previous issues and at times I didn’t like the drawings as much as I have previously – but that is more about my dislike of things changing in general (which all ties into my dislike of non-matching sets of books, and changes in cover design) because the art work is still beautiful.  I’m not the target market for this, but I still enjoyed reading it a lot and want to get the next volume asap.  I also want to give it to all the little girls I know as an example of female friendships and that girls can do whatever they want to do without boys to help them.  I’m even debating lending my copies to the nieces – and I’m not a big lender of books!

You should be able to get Lumberjanes from any good comic shop – and please do find a comic shop to support.  Amazon are only offering 31p off the RRP on this at time of writing – so why not go and support an independent shop – go to the Comic Shop Locator and put in your post code and it’ll tell you.  My local store is incredibly friendly and happy to get anything in for me that isn’t in stock – and you can order online from him too if you really don’t want to leave your house.  And either way it’ll give you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside for supporting the little guy not the corporate giant!

Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books, new releases

Book of the Week: Mistletoe and Murder

I know, you all looked at my list of books I read last week and just knew that this was going to be my pick for BotW didn’t you?  So sue me.  Today feels momentous and a little terrifying with what is going on in the world, and what better way to take your mind off what may or may not be about to occur than a charming children’s novel about school girls solving mysteries.

Mistletoe and Murder
A Christmas book in early November? Bite me.

Long standing readers will be familiar with my love of Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong series (see here, here, here and here) and Mistletoe and Murder (which incidentally shares its name with a Daisy Dalrymple mystery which is also very good) is the fifth installment in the series and sees the girls spending their Christmas holidays at Cambridge visiting Daisy’s brother.  But of course the girls can’t help but run into an investigation – this time in competition with their rivals at the Junior Pinkertons.  But soon suspicious accidents have turned deadly and the girls are in a race against time to figure out who did it and why.

I’ve said before that these books are the perfect blend of Agatha Christie and St Clares stories and I stand by that – they’re brilliant and inventive and I wish they’d been around when I was the “right” age.  I practically gobbled this up in one sitting, which was a mistake  because I’d already read the Halloween short story and now I have to wait months and months and months for the next one.  This would make the perfect Christmas book for the young reader in your family – or the big kid if you’re like me.  It’s the perfect escape from the trials and tribulations of the grown-up world.


But if you’re not into middle grade fiction (more fool you) and still want some escapism, I can also heartily recommend Gail Carriger’s latest novella – Romancing the Inventor – in which we see one of the most beloved side characters in her steampunk world, Madame Lefounx, finally get over the pesky Angelique and find love again.  It probably works best if you’ve read the Parasol Protectorate series, will work even better if you’ve also read the Finishing School series.  I loved it – it’s a great, fun love story with some guest appearances from old favourites.  What more could you want?

Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong books should be available where ever children’s books are sold (if they’re not, ask them why), but here are links to Mistletoe and Murder on Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles and Kobo.

Romancing the Inventor is one of Gail Carriger’s self published works – so it’s not quite as available in the shops, but you can get it on Kindle and on Kobo or special order it in paperback from AmazonWaterstones and Foyles.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Judith Teaches

Gosh this was so hard this week.  My favourite book I read last week was one I read to review for Novelicious (which is returning to the internets in full force very shortly) and my rules dictate that I can’t make that my book of the week here as well.  My second favourite book of last week was the second Corinna Chapman book – and my rules dictate that I can’t pick that because I picked that series last week.  So after that it’s not so much Book of the Week as Book I Quite Liked of the Week.  And that’s not really in the spirit of the thing.  I was prepared to cheat if I managed to finish one of the books I had on the go on Monday morning, but I didn’t so I couldn’t justify that either.

So what I’ve decided to do is write about Judith Teaches by Mabel Esther Allen – which I read last week and which interests me on a few levels.  Judith Teaches was part of a series of career books for girls published by Bodley Head in the 50s.  Various different authors wrote the books which each feature a different career suitable for young ladies to do before they got married (and had to give up working to look after their husbands).  Other titles in the series cover jobs like floristry, farming and modelling as well as some  becoming a doctor or being a veterinary student.

Judith Teaches by Mabel Esther Allan
My newly reissued paperback copy of Judith Teaches. Check out the retro!

Judith Teaches covers the first year of the teaching of Judith and her friend Bronwen who get jobs at a secondary modern school straight out of training college.  They have a friend who is already teaching at the same school who they share a flat with, and although the book mostly focuses on Judith you hear about the other girls lives as well.  The three are clearly Nice Well Brought Up Grammar School/Boarding School girls who have a bit of a culture shock with the pupils at their new school (dirty! desperate to leave school to go work in the factory! not interested in reading! can’t spell!) and some of these sections feel very of their time.  But it does cover the potential ups and downs of teaching in a way that would have given the school girls that it was aimed at a realistic look at what they might be letting themselves in for – not all the children will be clever, not all the other teachers will be friendly, it will be stressful and tiring and you won’t be able to please everyone – in a way that you don’t get in boarding school books (which as regular readers will know Mabel Esther Allen also wrote along with my beloved Drina books).

I don’t think I knowingly read a career book as a child – unless Shirley Flight, Air Hostess counts – as the only ones I ever remember seeing were about nursing and that only interested me (as a weekend job, while being a teacher during the week) for a few days when I was about 6, so I’m not sure how representative this is of the genre, but Judith Teaches gave me several interested hours of reading – and a few wry smiles.  It also made me realise how far the world has come for women in 50 years.  After all, no one’s going to expect me to give up my job if I get married and I don’t think anyone would think I’m over the hill yet.  There’s still a long way to go – but I like to hope that my sort-of-nieces who are at primary school today won’t need a book to tell them that they could be a doctor if they wanted to.

Anyway, Judith Teaches has just been republished by Girls Gone By if you’re geeky like me and want to have a peruse for yourself.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

It was a close call for BotW this week (I like it when that happens) – with Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians deserving an honourable mention here for being utterly readable and totally cracktastic. But my favourite thing I read last week was Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My copy – which has a few marks from the commute…

Have you ever wondered what the rest of the kids were doing while Buffy and the Scooby Gang were off saving the world?  You know, the ones who voted Buffy class defender at the prom – who admitted that they knew there was something strange about Sunnydale and that she always seemed to turn up to fix it?  Or the rest of the kids at Hogwarts while Harry is busy fighting Voldemort?  The ones who aren’t The Chosen One(s)?  Well this is the book for you.  The Rest of Us Just Live here follows Mikey and his friends in the run up to graduation.

At the start of the book, it’s under 5 weeks away and weird things are starting to happen in the town.   It’s not the first time this has happened – and as always it’s the Indie kids who are fighting whatever the evil is that’s descended on town this time.  Mikey and his gang aren’t Indie Kids (you need a name like Satchel or Finn to belong) so they just see the blue lights, the zombie deer and worry that the high school is going to get blown up (again).  Each chapter starts with a summary of what the Indie Kids are up to and then you get into the nitty gritty of the daily life of Mikey and his friends.  And they have problems of their own.  Sure it’s not zombies or vampires – but alcoholism, eating disorders, Alzheimers, ambitious parents (of various types), OCD and being worshipped by cats and Mountain Lions are pretty tough too.

I’ve seen some criticism of this book for not a lot happening or being boring – but I never felt that at all.  What the kids are going through may not be as dramatic as fighting flesh eating monsters, but it’s important – and it’s relatable.  I was swept up in the dramas of what was happening in the kids lives – and I identified with them.  I wasn’t the popular kid at school and although I loved Buffy I would never have managed to be in her gang, but I did feel like I might have made Mikey’s team.

It is more low key than many other YA high school novels and it’s not as angsty and melodramatic as them either, but it’s touching and bittersweet and in it’s own way wryly funny.  If you’ve read all the stories about the Chosen Ones and want another side to the story, then this might well be the book for you especially if you’re a teenager or a student.  After all the schools are back, the novelty of a new year and new teachers has worn off and it’s nice to be reminded that as bad as your school life is, it could be much worse.

Get your copy from Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Waterstones or Foyles or wherever fine books are sold.  Happy reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Carry On

I know it isn’t that long since I had Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl as BotW, but I loved this so much I couldn’t not pick Carry On – the book about the characters that Cath was writing about in Fangirl.  But you don’t need to have read Fangirl to understand Carry On as they’re separate entities – and there’s no cross over (or at least I didn’t notice any) between the story of this and the fan-fiction that Cath wrote in Fangirl (Rowell has said that this is Canon not fan fic).

So good that I read it on the train at 4.30 in the morning.
Paperback copy of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

So, Simon Snow is returning to Watford School of Magicks for his final year.  But his girlfriend has broken up with him, his mentor wants to move him to safety away from the school and his roommate-cum-arch-nemesis hasn’t turned up – which Simon would be loving except that he’s a bit worried about him.  Then there’s the ghosts that keep turning up and the fact that the Evil Magic that’s trying to destroy the world (and particularly Simon) is still out there.

Now if this sounds a bit familiar to you, in Fangirl the Simon Snow series had a similar sort of world impact that the Harry Potter series did/does – so yes, it’s about a school for Wizards, and a Chosen One and his friends.  But it’s also not the same.  Magic works differently, the Baddie is different and the general dynamic is different and it’s not going to all work out the same (I don’t think that’s a spoiler).  As I was reading this I was reminded of how much I loved the Harry Potter series when it first came out, and how much fun there is to be had from a YA series about a Chosen One and which doesn’t feature a dystopian future world where everything has gone to pot.  And its been hard to find books like this – or at least I’ve found it hard.

I raced through this – reading pretty much 400 pages of it in practically one sitting (I stopped for dinner and Olympics) because I wanted to know what happened.  I suspect Harry fans may have a love/hate relationship with it – I wouldn’t describe myself as a super passionate fan* but I really liked it.  In fact I wish there were more books about Simon and Baz and their time at the school.  It did what I want an adventure-y thriller-y book for children/youngadults to do – it has a strong core group of characters with strengths and weaknesses (who compliment each other but also don’t always agree), who have challenges to overcome.  There is peril and adults are around but some of them are the problem and the rest might not be able to fix it.

I can’t guarantee that if you like Harry Potter you’ll like this, but equally I don’t think you have to like Harry to give this a try – if you like chosen one stories, quest stories, adventure stories then this one may well be for you.  And it should be everywhere.  My copy came from Tesco, but it’s also on Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles, and Kobo.

*I own all the books (some in German and French as well), I reread Azkhaban fairly regularly and the other early books to a lesser extent, but don’t reread the end ones as much.  I’ve seen most of the films (but not the last one), I haven’t bought the script for Cursed Child, but I have tried to buy tickets to see it and I haven’t been to any Harry theme parks or attractions.