Friday, 29 December 2017


Hi everyone.  I trust you have all survived Christmas and are busy making those frail little New Year’s Resolutions to reduce the waistlines – and the carousing that enlarged them, so that you may face 2018 with strength and confidence.  Really?  Who am I kidding?  What we all really want to do is blob out on the beach in this amazing summer weather, and to that end I have compiled a little list of mighty reading culled from the year’s blog and guaranteed to satisfy all Great Readers. 
            So:  in chronological order only (very loud fanfare of trumpets)


Blue Dog, by Louis de Bernieres, reviewed January

I am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes, ditto

A man Called Ove, by Frederick Backman reviewed February

The Pigeon Tunnel, a memoir by John le Carré, ditto

The Rules of Backyard Cricket, by Jock Serong, reviewed March

Hagseed, by Margaret Atwood, ditto

Carry Me, by Peter Behrens ditto

Leap of Faith, by Jenny Pattrick, reviewed May

Moonglow, a memoir by Michael Chabon, reviewed June

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, ditto       Young Adults

Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan, reviewed July

Look Who’s Back, by Timur Vermes, reviewed August

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders, ditto

Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb, reviewed October

The Blood Miracles, by Lisa McInerney, ditto

The Force, by Don Winslow, ditto

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towle, ditto

The Cartel, by Don Winslow, reviewed November

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah, ditto

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend     Junior fiction

            I’m sorry I can’t provide a link to each review;  my little blog was supposed to receive an overhaul by clever techno library staff but they have had to attend to more important library chores this year.  However -  in 2018 anything could happen!  ( I hope.)

            In the meantime, I wish you all a most happy, prosperous and HEALTHY New Year, and many hours of pleasure reading great books, and continuing, as always,  to be Great Readers.  

Julia's top twenty books from 2017

Click the links to read my reviews of the following books:

Blue Dog, by Louis de Bernieres (January 2017)
I am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (February 2017)
A man Called Ove, by Frederick Backman (February 2017)
The Pigeon Tunnel, a memoir by John le Carré (February 2017)
The Rules of Backyard Cricket, by Jock Serong (March 2017)
Hagseed, by Margaret Atwood (March 2017)
Carry Me, by Peter Behrens (April 2017)
Leap of Faith, by Jenny Pattrick (May 2017)
Moonglow, a memoir by Michael Chabon (June 2017)
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas (June 2017) Young Adults
Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan (August 2017)
Look Who’s Back, by Timur Vermes (August 2017)
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders (August 2017)
Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb (October 2017)
The Blood Miracles, by Lisa McInerney (October 2017)
The Force, by Don Winslow (October 2017)
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towle (October 2017)
The Cartel, by Don Winslow (November 2017)
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah (November 2017)
The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend  (November 2017) Junior fiction

Saturday, 23 December 2017


Hi everyone – I thought it would be a nice idea at this time of the year to suggest some Christmas reading for children as well as my usual recommendations for parents.  Our beautiful library has an excellent selection of famous and favourite authors guaranteed to absorb all enthusiastic young readers, from those just starting chapter books to the devoted followers of Heroes such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, the Harry Potter series (of course!), and Tom Gates, cool artist dude and aspiring member of a band with his mate – as soon as they learn to play.
            As we know, it usually rains on Christmas Day – hard to believe after eight weeks of relentless sunshine, but any of the titles below will certainly make the time fly by for kids whether the rain falls or stays away.
            Have a most happy Christmas everyone, and a safe and healthy New Year.  My Top Twenty list will be in the next post.  CHEERS!  


The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, by Liz Pichon

This is the first book in this great series written by Liz Pichon disguised as twelve year-old Tom Gates .  He’s really good at some things, like Art and English (sometimes) – and thinking up very clever excuses to give to his teacher as to why he hasn’t done his homework.  He can’t say the dog ate it because they haven’t got a dog, so he blames his older sister Delia (‘she spilt her coffee on it!);  in fact he blames Delia for a lot of things (I’m late because Delia hogged the bathroom!’ when in fact it’s Tom who locked himself in there to spite her), and does his level best to get her into trouble with his parents – ‘Mum, Delia’s got a boyfriend.  She had him here in the house!’ –He also hides Delia’s sunglasses regularly.  Yep, Tom is a bit of a stirrer, but he is not all bad.
            He’s best mates with his neighbour Derek;  they are both practising to be in a band when they grow up – they’re a bit rubbish yet but hey, they’re only twelve.  When they get more ‘professional’ they will call themselves the DogZombies.  Is that a cool name or what?  And he has a Megacrush on Amy Porter, who now sits next to him at the start of the new term (WOW!  Could he be any luckier??)  Yes, because Mr Fullerman has put him in the front row ‘to keep an eye on him’ (NO, NO, send me to the back again where you can’t see me!) and on the other side is none other than Measly Marcus  Meldrew, the most irritating kid in the school.  He’s totally sneaky and uncool and should be sitting somewhere far, far away.  Like Australia.
            Tom and Derek are huge fans of DUDE3, the best band on the planet, and they can hardly believe that these mighty stars will be performing in their town soon. Book One deals with their attempts to get to the concert – that turn out to be touch and go, because Derek’s new dog (called Rooster) eats the tickets!  (Truly.)
  Coupled with her great illustrations and Tom’s truly imaginative solutions to all of his everyday problems, Liz Pichon has created a great character that all kids can identify with – and all parents, too!  FIVE STARS

Brilliant, by Roddy Doyle

        When the great Roddy Doyle wrote this story for children poor old Ireland was in the middle of a very low time in its economy – and its spirits;  so many people were losing their jobs – and their houses – because they had no money to pay off their bank loans;  thousands of people were in such a bad way financially that they started to lose hope:  the old Black Dog of Depression descended on Ireland, and Dublin in particular where the story opens, like an angry, evil cloud.
            Raymond and Gloria’s Uncle Ben has had to shut his business down;  at one stage he was so busy he didn’t have time to answer his phone.  Now the phone doesn’t ring at all, and he has had to surrender his house to the bank because he can no longer pay the mortgage.  He is living with Raymond  and Gloria’s Mam and Dad and is very sad indeed.  Their Granny (who has her own little flat by the side of their house but never seems to stay there) says the Black Dog has him;  in fact the Black Dog has Dublin’s funny bone, she says, and no-one will be feeling better until Dublin’s funny bone is given back.
            Raymond and Gloria hear about this because they are hiding under the kitchen table listening to the adults talk about these adult things because they think the kids are in bed;  it has been a game they both enjoy, sneaking under the table without being seen.  They are horrified to learn of the Black Dog of Depression but because they love their Uncle Ben and want him to be happy again, they decide to search for the Black Dog and wrench back the funny bone – by force if need be!
            And what adventures they have while they pursue that evil animal, and what a surprise to find that other children, hundreds of them, are searching for him too, because they want their Mams and Dads, sisters and brothers to smile again.    Animals they meet on the search suddenly start talking, directing them where to go, until finally after a frightening showdown the horrid Black Dog is vanquished and forced to give up Dublin’s funny bone, for children are immune to his power, especially if they chant one word – ‘BRILLIANT’, and believe in it every time they say it.  ‘BRILLIANT’.
            This is a lovely story and sure proof that Ireland’s funny bone is working perfectly.  Roddy Doyle is just BRILLIANT.  FIVE STARS


The Lightning Thief, and Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
Junior Fiction                                   ages 10 upwards

                Twelve year-old Percy (short for Perseus) Jackson attends a private school in New York.  He has almost lost count of the schools from which he has been expelled or ‘asked to leave’;  he has ADHD and Dyslexia and the private academy in which he is now enrolled feels as temporary as all the rest for, sure enough, on a field trip to an exhibition of Greco-Roman art at a big museum, he pushes the class bully into a fountain for picking on his only friend Grover.
            Grover himself is a square peg in a round hole;  his legs are strangely curved and he walks with difficulty – he’s EASY to pick on, until Percy defends him, only to be taken away by teacher Mrs Dodds to be punished, which is pretty much what Percy expects – until he realises that all is not well with Mrs Dodds:  she has transformed into one of the Three Furies of Greek myth and is there to kill him!  At the last moment, wheelchair-bound Mr Brunner, the other teacher with the party, throws him a ballpoint pen which miraculously transforms into a lethal sword, and the wild blows Percy swings at Mrs ‘Fury’ Dodds send her into a pile of dust.
            It goes without saying that it’s hard for Percy to get his head round all this life and death stuff, especially as the others in the class seem unaware of what is going on;  in fact none of them remember a teacher called Mrs Dodds.  There also seems to be a strange complicity between Mr Brunner and Grover;  for someone in a wheelchair, and another who doesn’t walk very well and ALWAYS wears a cap even though he has plenty of tight curly hair, they seem to always have his back – a fact that Percy finds comforting but mystifying.
            Needless to say, all is eventually revealed in Rick Riordan’s fabulous series, this book being the first, and published in 2005 – which means that I must be the last one on the planet to become acquainted with Percy Jackson – but better late than never, I say!
            It transpires that Percy is a ‘Half-Blood’, a demi-god, the child of a Greek god and a human, the human being his mother Sally, who has spent her life trying to keep him safe, to the extent that she has made a marriage with a cruel, crude and barbaric man who doesn’t care for either of them, but she feels that it is protection – of a kind, against the forces sent to kill Percy, for he is the child of Poseidon, the God of the Sea, one of the Big Three, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, who all swore an oath never to have any more children with mortals after the end of World War Two, for they felt that the conflict that nearly destroyed Western civilisation was their fault for consorting with humans. 
            Mr Riordan has created a winning formula with Percy and his adventures:  Grover turns out to be a young satyr;  his funny walk is because he has goat’s legs – those sneakers with the false feet just about kill him!  And he wears a hat all the time because of the tiny goat horns protruding from his forehead.
            Mr Brunner who travels everywhere in his wheelchair, does so because it is his disguise;  he is Chiron the centaur – he could hardly tool through the streets of New York with the torso of a man and the body of a horse.  Oh, this is a great series – especially when Percy discovers that he has been accused by Zeus and Hades of stealing Zeus’s Lightning Bolt, and The Helm of Invisibility, precious to Hades:  it is not easy to accept the fact of being the son of a god, then to find that he is on a hit list is just plain insulting.  He will have to fight back!
            So begins Percy’s  quests and death-defying adventures with other half-bloods who become his friends – and one who betrays them all.  And an extra pleasure for me was to find that the ancient myths that fascinated me as a child are alive and well and accurately portrayed in a modern setting.  Mr Riordan is scrupulously correct – and very funny - in his portrayal of all the gods and monsters he introduces to his stories – you should see what Medusa does to Percy’s stepfather!  Great stuff, especially when he introduces a young Cyclops and Jason’s Golden Fleece in ‘The Sea of Monsters’.    SIX STARS

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

          In the United States, Trevor Noah enjoys a stellar career as a Comedian and TV Host;  his life is enviable in its success and he is a shining example of ‘anyone can BE anything’ if they have the will to do it.
            Well, Trevor has certainly been gifted with the will, but reaching the top has been a scrambling, rocky ascent – for half-white half-black Trevor shouldn’t have been born at all:  in 80’s Apartheid South Africa it was legally a crime for the two races to cohabit.  Naturally, this didn’t prevent the mingling of the races, but the punishments were severe:  jail terms of five years or four years (depending on who was doing the mingling – a black man or woman doing the deed with a European got five years, but a white European of either sex cohabiting with a native of either sex was sentenced to four years).
            Babies, the consequences of all this sin, were taken away from their mothers to subsist in orphanages, kept there until they were teenagers, then released into an uncaring world where they would always be outsiders because of their indeterminate colour – at least if you were black or white, you knew WHAT you were in Apartheid South Africa.  You knew your place.  Being pale enough to be not-quite-white just didn’t cut it.
            Trevor’s mum Patricia, a member of the Xhosa tribe, was well aware of the pitfalls and trials of bringing a baby into the world, but being of a fiercely independent and rebellious nature, she decided to have a child anyway, because she wanted a child to love her and depend on her, somebody of her own – the only problem being her choice of father:  a Swiss German who was not interested in parenthood, and had to be persuaded over time to see that it was a good idea.  Really?  For when Trevor was born the can of worms truly opened:  Trevor’s mum had to find a coloured friend to go walking with them , the friend masquerading as The Mum;  Trevor was never allowed to call his father ‘Daddy’ in public, he had to address him as ‘Robert’, and when Patricia decided to introduce her beloved child to her estranged Xhosa family in Soweto, she endangered them all in her subterfuge, for they could not publicly acknowledge Trevor as their new grandson:  he was the wrong COLOUR, for Heaven’s sake, so he was never allowed out of the back yard – from which he frequently escaped.
            For Trevor was just as rebellious as his beloved mum, and this hugely entertaining autobiography chronicles his childhood and youth living on the outside even within his own family, but it demonstrates too, his resilience, resourcefulness and the enormous optimism and humour required to survive in such adversity.
            And don’t forget prayer!  For rebellious Patricia was so deeply religious that she dragged Trevor off to pray at three different churches every Sunday, whether he wanted to go or not:  the Spiritual, speaking-in-tongues church, the European church, and the native church.  There:  all holy again till next Sunday.  Magic!  SIX STARS

The Last Tudor, by Philippa Gregory

            Ms Gregory is justly famous for her fine and meticulously researched historical novels concerning the power struggles of the Plantagenets and Tudors, those medieval rulers of England who transformed their little country into a force to be feared throughout Europe, culminating with Henry VIII, who broke away from the Catholic Church so that he could marry ‘for love’ and get himself a son – which he did, (after two daughters to two queens) but his beloved Edward did not live beyond fifteen.  To maintain the strong and legitimate succession of an heir to the throne in the new and true faith the Privy Council decides on Lady Jane Grey, great-niece of Henry and eldest of three sisters who are royal princesses in their own right.
            Jane is deeply religious but also conscious of the responsibilities of her great new office;  she is reluctant to be queen but the only other alternative is Princess Mary, daughter of Katharine of Aragon – also deeply religious but of the Old Faith:  the people will never accept her!
            But they do.  Princess Mary brings an army to London to reinforce her claim as legitimate heir and Jane, ‘Nine Days a Queen’ is imprisoned in the Tower, where so many other luckless prisoners have languished.  Mary then goes on a royal rampage to avenge all the members of her faith who have been persecuted by the Protestants.  ‘Bloody Mary’ is feared and hated in due course but no-one escapes her wrath, including Lady Jane the Usurper:  she is beheaded, her body quartered and buried without ceremony in the Tower crypt.  The first Protestant Martyr is in Heaven.
            Lady Jane’s two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary, do not fare well either in their dealings with Queen Mary’s successor Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn;  Elizabeth has been declared a bastard, hidden from sight and maligned for most of her young life:  now she has the ultimate power, and she and her powerful council will wield it to England’s best advantage.  Her autocracy extends to her Ladies-in-waiting:  none of them may marry without her permission –which she seldom gives, and when Katherine enters into a secret marriage with Ned Seymour, handsome son of an ancient and noble house, Elizabeth’s rage is such that they are both imprisoned in the Tower.  ‘For as long as it may please Her Majesty.’
            For they have produced a child, a healthy boy – an heir to the Throne -  which Elizabeth cannot achieve, especially as she has no husband.  Her jealousy is absolute and the Grey family endure persecution on the grand scale, even the youngest sister Mary.
            Crouchback Mary, stunted Mary, deformed of stature but not of heart, ordered to be Elizabeth’s Lady-in-waiting, but still able to enjoy her life despite the Queen’s best efforts to make her miserable – until her unpermitted marriage also has her imprisoned.  Elizabeth will not be defied, even by a Little Person.

            Each of the Grey sisters narrates their own part in this hugely entertaining chronicle of a savage and turbulent era:  Ms Gregory’s great characterisations and fine prose enable these giants of history to live again – as well they should.   FIVE STARS