Archive for April, 2012

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Hmmm… Thus far, this blog has been dedicated to book reviews. Patently, Avengers is not a book. Should I start a new blog? Can one, should one include it in a “book lover”‘s sanctuary? Is the investment you give a 150 minute film equivalent to a book that takes a week, a month to read? Why should a film to which we dedicate our attention not be given as much respect as a book that we shoehorn into spare moments in our lives, sitting on the loo, over our sandwiches at lunch, at the end of the day before sleep?

You could argue that the merits of a film which is likely to raise millions of pounds and dollars within days for a massive industry employing hundreds outweighs and exceeds the fevered scribblings of an individual sitting alone in front of his laptop (so much less lyrical image than angst ridden in a garret!).

Interesting to see what the blogosphere think.

Personally, I ask myself why I read. It is, for me the narrative, the world creation, the characters, the language. These things appear in novels, poetry, drama, cinema, music, even (heaven forfend) some games.

So on with the film!

As a self-confessed (should one confess to something which he doesn’t think is a flaw?!) geek, I grew up with Marvel. Spider-Man, The Hulk, Captain America are icons from my youth. Therefore, I had high hopes for The Avengers.

The premise is that an intergalactic threat posed by Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, and his alien army causes Earth’s mightiest heroes to assemble to defeat it. And from this arose my concerns: how to bring together a team, establish and develop their characters, and create a good rollicking plot. To a certain extent, I think the film succeeded but only because each of these characters have featured in either the eponymous or a supporting role in previous films. As a standalone, it would have foundered.

So, who are Earth’s mightiest heroes? Let’s look at the roll call that Stark gives to Loki:

Two master assassins: Hawkeye and Black Widow, both of whom had less background and were the least well known characters. Hawkeye appeared briefly in Thor dangling from a crane above Mjolnir when Thir tried to recover it; Black Widow masqueraded as Tony Stark’s secretary in Iron Man 2. I was most irritated by this pair as they had so much potential that wasn’t dealt with: Black Widow had had a bad history, red in her ledger, and came onto SHIELD’s radar as a target; Hawkeye had been sent to terminate her but brought her into the SHIELD family instead. She is the one we see in action most: battling corrupt Russian generals, allowing herself to be captured and tortured in order to manipulate the General into giving up his secrets. A trick she pulls later with Loki; whilst Loki pulls pretty much the same trick on SHIELD. As a bad and possibly damaged character desperate for redemption, she could have held a more central place on the team and in the story.

Hawkeye – who allowed himself to be brainwashed in the opening scene – does little more than glower throughout the film. The implied romance between him and Black Widow was never developed.

And onto the Suits!

Captain America: underused and apparently the victim of severe editing. The film dovetails essentially with the end of Captain America and his reintegration into modern society after half a century entombed in arctic ice is glossed over. His role in this film: look pretty, take the moral high ground, give a couple of orders. The symbolism, the leadership that came across in his own film were lacking. He didn’t convince me.

Thor: the Demi god and brother to Loki. Again, a bit too trusting and naive; but with just a touch of arrogance and over confidence. His first appearance is to steal Loki back from Tony Stark and Captain America, which leads to perhaps the best fight scene in the film. And also the best lines:

Thor: Do not touch me again, mortal!
Stark: Then don’t touch my stuff!

(paraphrased)

The Hulk. Oh dear, the Hulk. Third (modern) incarnation; third variation on his creation myth. No longer was he exposed to gamma radiation following his father’s genetic manipulation now a gamma fuelled attempt to recreate the super soldier effect.

The Hulk is my favourite Marvel character: the Jekyll and Hyde characters, the chaotic rage, the animal within us all, the need and perhaps delight in giving into the creature that simultaneously terrifies us, the liberation from social moral and political norms and taboos. For perhaps 90 minutes of the film, this is all there: Loki tries to unleash the beast; Nick Fury is either terrified of the beast or intends to unleash him as a weapon; Stark, in another lovely moment bonds with Banner the scientist, as a fellow genius, talking to him through a computer monitor, encouraging him to liberate the beast as a form of therapy.

When we finally see The Hulk, he seems to be the beast we expect: blindly chasing Black Widow through the ship, raging against Thor when he saves Black Widow, leaping at and ripping apart a fighter jet.

The next time we see Banner, though – and I guess I should put a spoiler alert here, he seems to change at will and remain in control. WTF! That’s not The Hulk! He takes orders! From Captain America!

By this point, the alien army has descended on Manhattan (always Manhattan) and the film becomes nothing more than a very extended fight scene.

Tony Stark: the final hero. Robert Downey Junior was born to play this role! He sparkles in every scene, he has the best lines, he has the best fights

Steve Rogers: Big man, in a suit of armour… take that away, what are you?
Tony Stark: Uh… genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist…

Possibly not all the best lines though: this one caused me to smirk:

Thor (warning the others not to disrespect Loki): He’s my brother
Natasha Romanoff: He killed 80 people in 2 days
Thor: …He’s adopted

The best line goes to Loki though. When Black Widow speaks to him, asking him to spare Hawkeye, he turns on her and in a vitriolic shattering performance seems to break through all her emotional and mental defences and barriers. He derides her for trying to redeem herself by bargaining the date of the world for one man who is better than herself; he promises to make Hawkeye torture and kill her in every way that she knows and is terrified of and only release him from his mind control for long enough to see what he has done. And he ends by calling her a “mewling quim“. Having a Masters in English Literature from Cambridge I knew what this meant. I doubt anyone else in the cinema did. I doubt the censors did. I’m not explaining it to my 12 year old step son. The modern equivalent would not be acceptable in a 12A film: it begins with a c and rhyming with punt! Naughty naughty Joss Whedon!!

So, overall then. I felt this was a fine piece of entertainment albeit flawed in places. It felt like a longer film shoe horned into a shorter space: at one point Loki stabs Thor in the stomach; in the next scene Thor seems injured and struggling to stay upright. Then it’s never mentioned again. I have no idea if it’s true but it felt as if Thor may at one point in the film have had a near death experience which was edited out. Loki as a force of chaos, caged by Nick Fury but continuing to sow seeds of distrust and discontent to undermine all the so-called heroes, has echoes of The Joker in The Dark Knight but doesn’t dominate and sparkle in the way Heath Ledger did there.

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I have a confession.

I love Dracula. Both the character and Stoker’s novel.

And I love vampires.

Not the sparkly, fairy, effete version populating Meyer’s asinine attempts at fiction (“Dear Dracula, do you remember that one night seventeen years ago? Well, we need to talk. Sincerely, Tinkerbell”) but full blown raging bloodlust sensual sexual visceral vampires. Buffy’s Angel and werewolves may be a tortured soul trapped in a bestial form struggling to contain their animal appetites (which has its own appeal) but a real true dyed-in-the-wool vampire revels in and relishes their evil.

The concept for this book, then, had an automatic appeal: Dracula had arrived in England; he seduced and turned Lucy Westenra who is dispatched by the forces of light comprising Arthur Holmwood, John Seward and Quincey Morris. As the forces of light attempt to track down Dracula, he turns his attention to Mina Harker. At this point, Newman’s narrative departs from Stoker’s: Dracula kills Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris; he seduces Queen Victoria and becomes Prince Consort; a world of vampires flocks to England to make a stab at (or to take a bite at) an openly vampiric life.

History and fiction mingle in Newman’s tale: Stoker and Van Helsing are both characters; Inspectors Lestrade and Abberline work side by side; Sherlock Holmes has been incarcerated in a ‘warm’ concentration camp; doctors Moreau and Jekyll investigate vampire physiology. Vampires from fiction abound from Lord Rothven (appropriately for the first literary vampire in Polidori’s The Vampyre now Prime Minister to less familiar names such as Kostaki, von Klatka and Count Vardalek.

As a self confessed geek, there is an undeniable delight in recognising the various recreations and re-imaginings of famous and less famous characters.

Had that been the only pleasure, though, this would have been a thin, poor novel. Fortunately, it is not the only pleasure: Newman’s story remains rooted in the final years of the nineteenth century and focusses on the Jack the Ripper murders. The Ripper’s victims, Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes and Kelly remain prostitutes in Whitechapel but are now vampire prostitutes and their murders attract the attention of Scotland Yard; Queen Victoria herself; the shadowy Diogenes Club headed by Mycroft Holmes (which exists somewhere between diplomacy and warfare on behalf of the Queen); the criminal spider’s web headed by Fu Manchu, the Lord of Strange Deaths, and Professor Moriarty; and the philanthropic hospital and charity of Toynbee Hall.

Our main characters are Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard. Geneviève is a four hundred year old Vampire elder who works as assistant director of the Hall under Dracula‘s Jack Seward; Charles is an agent of the Diogenes Club and, through them, the Queen. Geneviève in particular is a quite compelling character: turned at the age of sixteen and remaining in a sixteen year old body, she remains a strong moral anchor in the world. Enough of her history and powers are hinted at that she comes across as indomitable throughout the novel even though we never truly see her unleash that power. Charles Beauregard by contrast is a lesser character: mired in duty and obligation to his Queen, his fiancée and his deceased wife he is so much less confident and compelling than Geneviève.

The novel conjures up all the expected cliches of Victorian London with Hanson cabs, fogs and gas lamps yet manages to remain fresh and convincing. The addition of the vampires into the social sink of Whitechapel, where a threepenny could buy you both a roll in the hay and a blood letting, deepens the griminess of the area. One woman in a particularly unpleasant image trails the streets of Whitechapel with two children in tow (which may or may not be her own) to pimp their blood to passing vampires.

The vampires themselves are not quite the full blooded bloodsuckers I had hoped for. The magic and superstition of Dracula is stripped away, as is their antipathy to crosses and holy water and garlic. These vampires are more natural than Stoker’s: they’re still preternaturally strong, heal almost instantly from most injuries, have a various abilities depending on their bloodlines including almost psychic sensitivity to others’ thoughts or shapeshifting; sunlight can burn newly turned vampires and silver can prevent wounds from closing. It is from this silver that Jack the Ripper is dubbed Silverknife before the Ripper moniker is attached to him.

There is a wider larger plot behind the efforts to track down the Ripper but in fear of spoilers I shall not dwell on that. It did manage to take me by surprise in the final hour of the audiobook!

Posted: April 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

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This was my first foray into the realm of audiobooks, thanks to a new phone and Audible.com so this review will be a review both of the experience of audiobooks as well as the book itself. I’ve always been hesitant about audiobooks due to three factors: the price of them seems disproportionate in comparison to paper and I am nothing if not a miser; and I was hesitant about hearing a book read in any voice other than my own – which I suppose suggests a certain megalomania on my part; and as a man of limited brain power I was worried that I may not be able to concentrate on them enough to drive at the same time and having hour long drives to and from work each day I was hoping to fill that time with them.

I have to say that I was pleasantly pleased with the experience. An offer from Audible.com made it affordable; and I found the book required enough concentration to stop me dwelling on the various catastrophes in my classes every day; but not enough to prevent me from driving safely. Or at least no less safely or competently than usual! It did take longer to listen to a book than read it: as a relatively fast reader, it was a little limiting to be restricted to another person’s speed. Also, some linguistic peculiarities that might be skimmed over in a written text can become niggling when read aloud.

Anyway onto the book!

Kallentoft caught my attention on A book shelf with the Swedish title Midvinterblod and the usual “The Next Steig Larsson” boast on the front. Despite a somewhat sceptical attitude, something about the blurb and description appealed.

Despite the Swedish setting, the story is in the familiar genre of the police procedural. Malin Fors is a police officer in the Linköping police force who is called the scene of a brutal murder in the opening chapters of the book. The narration is very strongly from Fors’ point of view with some notable exceptions. The most obvious and unusual exception was when the narration is taken over by the murder victim, Bengt Andersson. The first occasion it happened, I was intrigued by this fresh perspective, reminiscent of The Lovely Bones. Unfortunately I found it distracting as it became a regular feature of the book: it added little if anything to the narrative and I didn’t find it increased my empathy with him any more; it also was a voice that jarred with the impression I got of Andersson through the rest of the narrative. Andersson is overweight, socially, emotionally and physically impaired and cared for by Social Workers. The impression I received of him through the book was of someone who was isolated and less than capable. The image of him waiting outside the fence of a football stadium every weekend in order to catch abc return their stray balls (from which he got his nickname Ball Bengt) was genuinely moving and reminded me of my daughter who has Asperger’s Syndrome on the outside of a group wanting to join in but not knowing how. The voice in his narration however was knowing and articulate and I found that that jarred for me.

However, the character that carries this book and the series which I suspect will follow is Malin Fors. She is possibly one of the most rounded and credible police characters I have come across, certainly one of the most credible female police roles. She is a single mother with a thirteen year old daughter Tove, a lingering love for her ex-husband and a physical attraction to, occasional nights of lust with and a potential romance with a newspaper reporter Daniel. The relationship between Malin and Janne, her ex-husband, was I thought dealt with very effectively and delicately from the photograph of him beside her bed which she “usually tells herself is there to make Tove happy” to the silent nighttime phone call she makes to him. It a realistic, messy, lonely situation but not melodramatically tortured in the way that some detectives are.

Tove – as a relatively minor character – was also well drawn. Perhaps it reflects different attitudes between Scandinavian and British attitudes to parenting but I did feel that I wouldn’t let my thirteen year old daughter behave as she did! The seriousness of the relationship between Tove and her boyfriend Markus – it is implied that they were having or close to having sex – and the formal “meeting his parents” scene – may have been more credible had she been fifteen or sixteen.

It says a lot about the strength of Kallentoft’s writing that, thus far, I have only really mentioned his characters: the plot, whilst well plotted, intriguing and thoughtful, was the scenery which the characters brought to life.

Bengt’s body is found mutilated and hanging from an isolated oak tree in the forests around Linköping. Various lines of enquiry emerge: his death suggests a connection to Old Norse Æsir religions; local schoolboy bullies; and his family which, as the novel progresses, becomes ever more complex, interconnected and sinister. Without giving the plot away, I did anticipate about half way through who the murderer was and why they had murdered but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book because it is as much character driven as plot driven. I was however a little disappointed that the killer was revealed by a rather artificial device: out of the blue, a psychiatrist phoned up and told them! After 6 years practising law as a barrister, that seemed more deus ex machina than policework which is generally far more pedestrian!

Kallentoft’s other strength for me is his description: the chill of the midwinter, the way the cold and trees of the forest muffled the noises and voices of Malin and her partner were hugely evocative. I loved the descriptions of the food as well, which was often dealt with in some detail, including odours.

One thing which did grate was Kallentoft’s dialogue: although the dialogue itself was convincing, it was almost invariably followed with “he says” and “she says”. Perhaps this was a limitation in the translator rather than the writer; perhaps it is more of an English stylistic expectation; perhaps it was more obvious because I listened to this as an audiobook rather than skimming it as a written text. As a teacher, however, who constantly advises his students to limit their use of “said” it really irked!

In short, then: this was a really impressive police procedural populated by convincing and compelling characters. Would I buy another Malin Fors novel? Definitely.

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I have read this solely because it is on the Carnegie 2012 Shortlist which I am leading a shadowing group for at my school. Something about the title, the rather pastel chintzy cover, the subject matter simply didn’t appeal. At the risk of being judgmental it struck me as a rather girly book.

All I can say is that I was wrong. It happens. More frequently than I like, but this time I am glad to say I was wrong.

The story revolves around Jamie, a ten year old boy whose remarkably well adjusted for a child whose older sister has been killed in a terrorist attack, whose mother’s left them, whose father’s an alcoholic and who’s being bullied at his new school. The novel revolves around the first term of the new school year and follows Jamie’s various triumphs and tribulations; his growing understanding of the world in which he lives.

It is not, despite the title, too much focused on the sister’s death. I had dreaded that this would become a mawkish clumsy coming-to-terms-with-death book. And whilst it does do that, it is by no means the entirety or even majority of the book. In fact, those parts of the book that deal with the sister are perhaps the least successfully managed: I wasn’t convinced by Roger the cat but without filling the review with spoilers I can’t really say more!

There were done rather contrived plot devices: seating Jamie beside Sunya at school set up a rather obvious plot trajectory, using the Britain’s Biggest Talent Show, paralleling the results of the Ofsted’s inspection with the family was a little obvious perhaps. However, whilst a dry analytical part of me recognised and gently scoffed at the devices, the other warmer (moister?) parts of me loved the way in which those devices played out.

There is something very evocative in Pitcher’s descriptive writing: she very often evokes an almost synaesthetic effect most obviously with the sparkles in Sunya’s eyes but also elsewhere such as the words that were too big to get past Jamie’s teeth like the cupboard his Dad tried to get through a door, or the word ‘sober’ hanging in the air like deodorant after its sprayed.

It was interesting having the bonus short story from Jasmine’s point of view too: Pitcher clearly changed her writing style for her narrators and it was a brave decision to choose Jamie over fifteen year old Jasmine as the narrator. But the relationship between the brother and sister was very nicely balanced between mutual irritation and mutual dependence. There was clearly potential in Jas’ story in its own right and the occasional references to how skinny and thin she was suggested that she was probably suffering from anorexia or some form of eating disorder. I wonder whether the earliest drafts of this story were narrated by her…

It is telling that Pitcher has worked in education – I think as an English teacher. Her description of Ofsted’s arrival and the sudden imposition of Brain Gym and Learning Objectives will make any teacher smile wryly if not laugh out loud. But it also shows in her understanding of the children she depicts. I genuinely felt that this was the voice of one of the most convincing child narrators I’ve come across. He is more concerned about getting enough party food whilst his parents towed over his mum’s affair; and dreads the emptiness of the house in case his dad had left a suicide note on the table.

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I am in two minds over this book. And I think that reflects the fact that the book itself is trying to be two things at once.

On the one hand this is a gritty realistic depiction of the most poor in a down trodden society. It is based on the trash piles that Mulligan witnessed in Manila, being combed over by children scavenging anything that could be useful, traded or sold. It is a genuine contemporary problem and the descriptions of the trash piles, of the slum town of Behala are effective and chilling for a young adult book. There is a strength in Mulligan’s writing when describing these through the eyes of Raphael, Gardo and Rat, his three protagonists and principal narrators.

Having stumbled onto a bag in their scavenging, Raphael discovers a moderate fortune, photographs of a dead man and his daughter and a key. It soon transpires that the police are also after the contents of this bag and offer 10,000 pesos for its recovery and another 1,000 pesos to every family. It is here that the narrative falters for me: the brutality with which the police persecute Raphael was convincing and chilling; but the speed with he rejects the offer of the money stretched my suspension of disbelief too far.

As a fable (and one that I felt was explicitly Christian) I understand that Raphael had to reject the temptation of the money; but set in an otherwise realistic convincing environment it jarred.

As did the literacy of the boys. Again I understand it is written in retrospect and possibly with the benefit of a later education and I can accept their narrative voices. What struck me, though, was the picture of them sitting around reading newspapers and the Internet. Again a small, jarring detail.

In fact I felt the life of these boys was just slightly romanticised. They meet other street boys in the course of the novel; they sneak their way into the train station boys’ territory, night sweepers share a cigarette with Raphael, they are hidden in a gang of youths… They almost seem like the Baker Street Irregulars or Robin Hood’s Merry Men. Again, in itself, this is no bad thing; in a contemporary gritty setting, it didn’t quite work for me.

As a teacher, however, I see much to recommend this book: the characters are vivid and well created and their voices are convincing. I particularly liked the voices of the more minor characters who took over the narration from time to time. I think a lot of boys will read this very much as an adventure story and it does appeal to the powerful idea of the underdog rising up to combat and succeed in a small but significant way against a corrupt political system.

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So now I’ve finished, did this novel improve?

Unfortunately no!

It is entirely the fault of the narrator I think and just shows how hugely important the narrative voice is in a first person narrative. Here it is the voice of a thirteen year old boy and he just annoyed the hell out of me (and as a parent and teacher, I have quite a high threshold for teenage annoyance!)!

The episode where he stole a ute and drove into a stampede of cattle in order to save his camel left me speechless for all the wrong reasons! He needed a good slap for endangering himself, the cattle and the car. And if he told me once more that being allowed to do something adult made him feel “taller” I may have put the book on the fire!

The descriptions did improve from page 91: the descriptions of the cows being burned – reminiscent of foot-and-mouth pyres – were gruelling. But the language was almost completely bereft of adjectives or figurative language. I do accept that the choice of a down-to-earth home-educated teenage boy narrator limits the literariness of the writing but, even so!

And the obvious device of using the rain to conclude the book felt clumsy.

I also had a problem with the language here: there are many Australian slang terms littering the book but they didn’t strike me as authentic, more as if they had been shoehorned in to give a veneer of authenticity (to mix my own metaphors!). Cliche was also a difficulty here: Danny’s father seemed to speak in them which Lewis then highlighted by putting them in italics!. The rain at the end of the book, the pathetic fallacy of the deepening drought that reflects the deepening rifts within the family all struck me as cliched.

I feel I’m being unfair! This is not a bad book. I just did not gel with it. Two more on the Carnegie list to go!
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Ok, I’ll be honest, I’m not thrilled with this book. It’s set in the Australian desert in a family run cattle station, not dissimilar to that shown in Baz Luhrman’s film Australia.

It is narrated through a first person voice of Danny, the middle son who is struggling to come to terms with his older brother Johnny’s death (apparently by falling off a roof, memories of The Archers’ Nigel Pargetter spring unbidden to mind) and his sister’s pregnancy.

Actually, that seems unfair: save for a couple of conversations and references the death and pregnancy have been hardly dealt with at all. Perhaps this is because 13 year olds do deal with things by ignoring them – mine does – but it means that the book seems to do no more than recount the day to day minutiae of ranch life… and it’s really rather dull!

And descriptions seem to be lacking. The butchering of the killer could have been described in detail but is instead only obliquely referred to. Again perhaps this reflects the matter-of-fact nature of death on a cattle station. Perhaps it is a nod to the sensibilities of a young adult audience (who have a stronger stomach than this book may assume).

Perhaps I am being unfair: I am only 91 pages into it. But I’m not gripped by the narrator or the writing …

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A fabulous book! At its most literal level!

Reading the blurb of this, the fate of Romany children in Eastern Europe during World War II was an appealing on. Then it mentioned that they come across animals in a zoo which talk to them.

Talking animals have never appealed to me: Mrs Frisbee, Beatrix Potter, Disney… Anthropomorphised, twee, patronising … Oddly I do like magic realism but the idea of talking animals curdles the blood.

This, however, works. And works brilliantly.

Andrej and Tomas are fleeing Nazi persecution having witnessed their family and friends gathered and led into the forest bearing shovels. It is implicit that they are being executed. Told to flee by their mother, they do so and end up in a ruined razed village. There, Night (who almost acts in the same way as Death in The Book Thief) spots them as they slip into the only building standing: the zoo. After being knocked out by a bomb raid, Andrej and Tomas hear the animals talking. It is not clear whether the remainder of the novel is Andrej’s delusion or genuine. In fact the boundaries between narrative truth, history, fiction, dream, story and fantasy are not clear throughout the book.

The animals tell their stories to the children and whether we truly believe them – for example, the lioness appeared to have ended up in the zoo after she mauled the bride of the hunter who had stolen her – in my opinion, becomes irrelevant. Because the stories have power. A truth that exists beyond pedantic accuracy.

I can see many people reacting to this novel negatively and seeing only superficial meanings: zoos are bad; wars are horrible. The heart of the book, however, is deeper than that: it is in the beautiful lyricism of the prose (some of the sentences are truly stunning!) and in the power and value of story telling.

This book has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2012. As has Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls in which the eponymous Monster tells Conor, the main character, three stories in exchange for a story back from Conor. Hartnett’s tale shows the power of story to overcome the horrors of war; Ness’ shows the power of story to overcome the horrors of a parent’s illness. Both books are stunning!

A lovely and somehow old-fashioned adventure tale. Somehow reminiscent of Enid Blyton… As well as the plethora of games you can get now where you investigate various settings, find clues, use them to unlock new rooms…

This is a Carnegie 2012 shortlisted tale and very much aimed at the lower end of the age bracket: the main character Stuart is 10 years old and that gives a strong clue as to it’s intended audience. Some older readers may find it a little light. Personally, I started reading it at four o’clock and had finished it by nine o’clock, having made tea in the middle!

Stuart is made to move homes at the start of the summer holidays because his mother has a new job. Aside from mild annoyance, don’t expect family angst or emotional trauma from that fact! He moves to his father’s home town of Beeton: quiet, Midlands and rather dull. There he discovers that his Great Uncle was a stage magician (why wouldn’t his dad have said before?!) and had given his father a money box years before. Opening the money box, Stuart discovers a horde of old three penny pieces which then inadvertently lead him onto a trail of clues to discover his long lost secret magic workshop. There are friends made along the way; enemies thwarted; clues deciphered; perhaps even true magic discovered.

Small Change … was, I felt, a good read. Younger readers will enjoy it and I am sure there will be a number of people for whom this is the book that turned them on to reading.

A good book however demands that the reader give it time; a good book has me reaching for a pen to highlight and annotate. The margins of Small Change … are – in my copy at least – as clean as the day it left the print run!

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