Tag Archives: Jan Pienkowski

Rounding Up The Reviews #1; Graves, Shadows, Peacocks and Raindrops

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would start a new occasional series of posts (occasional is such a lazy sounding word isn’t it, I have never understood what an occasional table is when it’s not being a table, sorry I digress) where I round up the books that be they good, bad or ugly I can’t quite get an 800+ post out of or, in some cases, don’t deserve such efforts. Yes that is right, finally after almost seven years blogging I am going to start telling you about some of the books that I have read which were average, bad or even downright awful. So I don’t come across a complete old grump there will also be some very good books in the mix, I might just not have oodles to say about them. We all have books like that don’t we? Anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let us start with the first four victims books…

Three Graves Full – Jamie Mason

ONE Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 336 pages, bought by my good self

Jason Getty has killed a man and buried him in his garden. This haunts him daily, but even more so when he has the gardeners in landscaping his lawn because he is so paranoid that someone might suspect from its unkempt state that he has buried someone there. What he, and the gardeners, are soon shocked to discover is that there are actually two other bodies buried in the Jason’s garden. If he didn’t kill them who did? And just who on earth are they? The farce begins…

I use the word farce above because in essence this is not a dark crime, it is not a cosy crime, I think it is trying to be a comic crime. From the synopsis I was sold and had no doubt that this would easily be in my top ten books of the year, alas I didn’t really like it. When the police detectives’ dog started to talk to itself a la Lassie and I was surprised and quite interested I knew all was lost – I don’t like talking animals in books, you know this. The book starts off with too much going on, confusion not being a good move early on in a book with too many characters introduced and random back stories. Then as it petered out, before going AWOL again later, I just coasted along with it. Sorry. Great idea just not crafted in a way that worked for me. You can hear me talking about it here.

Dreams and Shadows – C. Robert Cargill

Gollancz Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 416 pages, bought by my good self

Now you will have to bear with me on this one. Ewan is kidnapped when he is a young boy by some fairies who swap him for one of theirs, who drives its new mother to suicide. He is brought up as one of their own but it isn’t done for the love, there is a purpose – which I am obviously not going to tell you for spoilers sake and some of you will love this. Meanwhile a young boy Colby meets a Djinn in the woods Ewan has been stolen into, who grants him a wish (because he has to, he’s a Djinn) to see all things supernatural, which is actually more of a curse. Lovely so far isn’t it? Well it gets lovelier as Ewan and Colby meet and become friends. But, yes you guessed it there is a but, when Colby discovers Ewan’s fate he uses his new powers unselfishly and not only does this backfire, pretty much opening hell, but Ewan is rescued but ends up in care, rather disturbed and not in a good way to start out his life… And that is pretty much just the start; after all I did say hell is unleashed.

I loved the first half of this book. Cargill interweaves Ewan and Colby’s tales with snippets from Folklore Encyclopaedia’s and has some wonderful urban legends and spooky/grim stories interweaved. The second half of the book, and this will sound bonkers coming from me, almost gets too real and bogged down in the miseries of the real world and soon enough I lost interest. Liked the writing, would have preferred a tale firmly set in the ‘other’ or collection of spooky and horrific tales set in the now, for some reason this didn’t quite master either. You can hear me talking more about it here.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

Headline Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 288 pages, borrowed from the library

Right! The gloves are coming off with this one. There are some authors who everyone loves and who can clearly write brilliantly but I just don’t get. David Mitchell, Jennifer Egan, Martin Amis, etc. Then there are those authors who loads and loads of people love who can either write okay or badly or write in a way that makes me want to scream. Matthew Quick has become one of those. I read The Silver Linings Playbook and unlike everyone else not only did I get bored of my own eyes rolling as I read it I also questioned how Quick writes about people with mental health issues. It felt like the joke was on them and he was off running to the bank on the proceeds.

Well, for me at least, he has done it again with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock… Only this time it is at the expense of any teenager who has been suicidal or any teenager who has been shot at school. I actually don’t want to give the book any more airtime than that. Note – I talked about it a lot on Hear…Read This if you need more. But sorry Mr Quick, I cannot forgive you for this one.

A Necklace of Raindrops – Joan Aiken & Jan Pienkowski

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 1968 (2009 edition), fiction, 108 pages, , bought by my good self

Aaah!  A book to lighten any mood if ever there was one! This was actually a re-read for me and of a book that I had completely forgotten about until Kate chose it for Hear… Read This. It was a book I used to read way back decades ago when me and Polly, formerly of Novel Insights, were tiny little things and I used to dress up in her princess dresses refusing to be the prince. Back to the book though which is one of Aiken’s collections of short stories that also verges on picture book, thanks to Pienkowski who yes did all the amazing Meg and Mog books from your (or your children’s) childhood, the illustrations inside are as stunning as the cover.

This is a book that can be enjoyed and treasured by adults and children alike with its tales of genies, necklaces that can change the weather, cats that grant wishes and best of all the elves who come out of your books and bring them too life. Occasionally the tales got a little far out, yet that really is all part of the fun as like her readers it seems Joan Aiken had a limitless imagination. Virago are publishing her adult novels again I believe, someone needs to bring this and its follow up back into the mainstream as they are just wonderful and for me proved a real nostalgic trip.

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So that is your lot for now. I realised as I was going along that all these books were Hear… Read This choices. Now initially I was pondering if we just choose some dodgy books, I don’t think that is the case I think we all just experiment with choosing slightly random books which can be duds occasionally but overall when brilliant are really brilliant. I do wonder if it is actually a case of having discussed them so much with Gav, Rob and Kate I then feel like I have explored them enough and so don’t feel I can review them as well. Who knows? Anyway, more over the next few days meanwhile have you read any of these and if so what did you make of them? What are your thoughts on occasional review round up posts like this, and indeed what are your thoughts on occasional tables?

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Filed under C. Robert Cargill, Hear... Read This, Jamie Mason, Jan Pienkowski, Joan Aiken, Matthew Quick, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews

Very First Favourite Books

When I was up in Manchester just two weekends ago something happened which really took me back to my earliest reading days. I was looking after my two year old twin cousins whilst both parents were off doing things around the house and these two delightful girls wanted ‘big cousin’ (I didn’t get called Simon once, ha) to read them a story. The main choice seemed to be ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ of which I think I read three of the series at least four or five times each over the course of the weekend. When I went to go and look at the pile of possible other titles (for fear I might have too much of Thomas the Tank – not possible for these girls) I was taken by as there amongst the mass of books these girls have were two of my earliest favourite picture books (we arent talking full on childrens books today)…

I think that ‘Elmer’ by David McKee and ‘Meg & Mog’ by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski could quite easily be the two favourite published books that I can actually remember being asked to have read to me again and again as a child. They are also two books that I can remember actually reading to myself and I do wonder if that added factor of actually learning to read with specific books makes them all the more cherished in memory?

The pictures though are what I vividly remember and when I was sorting through what to read next (I might have had a mini sulk that the girls didn’t want either of these titles or any other in the series – I read them all when they had a morning nap instead) I found the images that send me straight back to my childhood both in Derbyshire and Newcastle. With ‘Elmer’ it had to be the vivid celebrating painted elephants…

And with ‘Meg & Mog’ for some unknown reason it’s the scene where they are all eating breakfast. I wonder if again that’s to do with the colours…

I did then have a god long think and came up with some other adored titles such as ‘Each Peach, Pear, Plum’ and ‘Burglar Bill’ by Allan and Janet Ahlberg (I read another collaborative Ahlberg book that weekend and spent half of it frowning, sometimes you shouldn’t go back it can ruin the memories), ‘Gumdrop’ by Val Biro, ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’ by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway and, of course, ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle though I think it went out of favour. Oh, and also the He-Man and She-Ra books though they were when I got older actually.

Now I mentioned those were my very favourite published children’s books because my truly treasured collection were tales of a witch called Esmerelda, a cat called Marmalade, a mouse called Mitch, a duck called Rapunzel and some hens… oh and a little boy called Simon! These were a series of books that my granddad ‘Bongy’ made for me, I have mentioned this series before (but do pop back if you haven’t seen it), and would send me in the post every week or so when I was living with my Mum in Newcastle and are unquestionably my very favourite children’s books of all.

So what were your favourite first books, which ones did you ask for again and again? Do we have any in common? What’s your first memory of books?

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