Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Haunting of Highdown Hall by Shani Struthers

This is one of those books that I like to read on holiday. In fact, earlier in the week I said I wished I was on holiday so that I would have more time to read it. It’s an easy read and it’s a page-turner.
Psychic Surveys is a company of psychics and sensitives who cleanse places of spirits that have got stuck and not yet passed on to the next world. Ridding Highdown Hall of a troubled spirit proves to be particularly difficult. In this particular story, yes, we have paranormal activity and that may not be what every reader likes. But we also have romance, pace and the type of questions that keep readers engaged in a crime story. Just why won’t Cynthia, a glamorous starlet who died young, make her way into the light? 
Twists and turns in the plot keep us on our toes. At the same time the characters are convincing and we’re engaged with them throughout. Shani Struthers’ writing gives us a filmic picture of the settings.
This is another success for Crooked Cat, a publisher that takes risks, works hard, and quite sensibly uses print-on-demand. Well done everyone!

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo writes a lot of books about war. Several of them also include animals. A fair number, too, include those unbelievable coincidences in which our friend Charles Dickens also indulged. War Horse, for example, irritates me as a book, a film and a show, because it ends with a deus ex machina - Joey and Albert ending up in the same place? Come on, now.
We forgive Dickens and Morpurgo. After all, we crave happy endings. The horse delights, anyway, in whichever form we consume the story, and we love the other characters as well.   
A Medal for Leroy also includes war, an animal (several actually – various generations of a Jack Russell called Jasper), a happy ending and characters we grow to love. Yet it does not rely on any strange coincidences. This could have happened to anyone. Leroy, Michael, the two aunties and mum Christine are people to whom the reader can relate. The ending is satisfying and brings closure but is not a rip-roaring “happily ever after” affair. It is all the more believable and satisfying for being thus.  
There are some parallels between Leroy’s life and that of Walter Tull, the first black player at Tottenham Hotspur and the third professional black player in the UK. Normally soldiers had to be “of pure European blood” so both Tull and Leroy were unusual in being allowed to fight in the Great War. Leroy is not Tull, however: he was more for The Arsenal.
This is an ideal crossover book. It is very accessible to fluent, junior school children, may appeal to teens as it has young people in it and will certainly not be too simplistic in content for adults.
Morpurgo is after all a master story-teller.