Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett

The theme of this book in the Death sub-series of Pratchett’s vast Discworld opus revolves around the Hogfather, Discworld’s version of Santa Claus, as seen above, who has gone missing. This causes all kinds of chaos as the holiday of Hogswatch approaches, when the Hogfather is believed to visit children everywhere to leave gifts. Death decides to try filling in for the missing deity with all kinds of amusing results. His granddaughter Susan is also drawn into the madness, as are the wizards of Unseen University. The disappearance of the Hogfather is engineered by a mysterious group called The Auditors, who hire a ruthless assassin, Mr. Teatime. His gang of criminals invade the world of the Tooth Fairy, a similar deity, as a way to gain control of the minds of the world’s children, forcing them to stop believing in Hogfather. There are lots more complications in this eventful and often funny book, one of Pratchett’s best in my opinion, as he spins the logical contradictions of the situations and characters in creative ways. Recommended.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Rereading: THE COMPASS POINTS NORTH by M. E. Atkinson

Cover and illustrations by Harold Jones

The third book of holiday adventures featuring the Lockett children: Oliver, Jane and Bill, begins with a new family of four children who are camping just on the English side of the Scottish border. They’re led by fiery Fenella, who reminds me a bit of Nancy Blackett in the Arthur Ransome books: full of ideas, ready to find an enemy to fight. The other Sinclair children are sensible Edward, practical sister Podge, and young brother Pip. They’re stuck at this camp because their mother’s car has broken down, and there’s no telling when it might get fixed. Fenella is delighted to find out another group of children has arrived in the small village, and begins to plot. Those children are Bill and Jane Lockett (brother Oliver goes on to stay with an Uncle in Edinborough) and sisters Morwenna and Esmé with their French governess Mademoiselle. Bill and Jane are disgusted to be staying under the thumb of a governess, but at least they can get out on their own once in a while. Also with them is another friend, young Bobby, who becomes the target of Fenella. She has decided that her own family represent the Ancient Britons, and the others are the Scots and Picts. A border war is called for, and it begins with the kidnapping of Bobby.

Before long a battle ensues, but later the two families join forces and work together to several ends. Bill and Edward are into fishing, Jane, Fenella and the sisters make friends with an English woman, Mrs. Hardy and her daughter Elspeth, living in a neighboring cottage, and learn that she is very worried about their future, as they are running out of money and have no income. The girls hatch plans to help her open a tea shop. Meanwhile Esmé is trying hard to match the toughness of Jane and Bill, and has some dangerous adventures of her own, and she and Pip also become detectives.

Great fun if you like British holiday adventures, as I do. Fine illustrations by Harold Jones, too. Recommended.

The Compass Points North by M E Atkinson

Rereading: THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS by Walter Farley

Cover and illustrations by Harold Eldridge

In the first book of this series, “The Black Stallion,” Alec Ramsey and his wild stallion rescued and brought home from a shipwreck came to international attention when they won a match race against the two best race horses in America. That also came to the attention of The Black’s real owner, an Arabian Sheik named Abu Ja Kub ben Ishak, who turns up one day with proof of ownership to take his prize stallion home, coincidentally the day after some unknown villain tried to poison the horse.

What follows is a thrilling adventure as Alec, his friend and trainer Henry Dailey, and new friend Mr. Volence, owner of one of the horses The Black beat in the match race, set off to Arabia to search for the mysterious home of The Black with the hope that Mr. Volence can convince the Sheik to sell him a few of his horses. They travel by sea plane from New York to Arabia, then by caravan across the desert, where their guide is murdered and their supplies stolen, leaving them at the mercy of the harsh landscape. Can they somehow reach the mountains where The Black now lives? As you can see from the cover, they can, and Alec and his friends become involved in war and treachery as well as another high-stakes race.

Great read, and I found the travel using long-extinct sea planes interesting, as well as the way the desert and its inhabitants were depicted and brought to life. Recommended.

The Black Stallion Returns by Walter Farley

Rereading: THE CHANGE-CHILD by Jane Louise Curry

Illustrated by Gareth Floyd

This is the second book in Curry’s Abaloc series, though there’s little to connect it to the first, “Beneath the Hill,” until the last few chapters.

Eilian is the daughter of poor farmers in central Wales in the time of Queen Elizabeth the First, but through a relative she didn’t know, Eilian discovers suddenly that she is in line to inherit a fine, large house and estate. That estate is coveted by another rich landowner, and he plots to have his son betrothed to Eilian, even though she finds the boy repulsive. Eilian and her grandmother decide to escape into the hills further south to Mamgu’s people on the edge of a dark forest. They call themselves the Red Fairies, but it seems they are mostly as human as anyone else, though gifted with music and other talents. On the way, Eilian makes a new friend, Goronwy, a boy who seems to have some uncanny abilities. When Mamgu tries to bargain with Eilian as a prize for her own people’s gain, Eilian and Goronwy must flee deep into the forest to his own people, the real Fair Folk of legend, but they have troubles and hardships of their own.

I enjoyed reading this again, but it’s a complex story with lots of Welsh names and poetry that takes a bit of work to follow. Still, recommended.

The Change-Child by Jane Louise Curry

Rereading: STOWAWAY TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET by Eleanor Cameron

This is my least favorite of the Mushroom Planet series, and it doesn’t help that my paperback edition omits the illustrations by Robert Henneberger, and has only this poor imitation on the cover.

David and Chuck believe they will never be able to return to the small hidden planetoid orbiting Earth known as Basidium, as the space ship their friend Tyco Bass helped them build was lost at sea, but then they meet Tyco’s cousin Theo, who has come to the house on Thallo Street in Pacific Grove, California. He and the boys are soon friends, and Theo helps them build a new space ship so they can all visit Basidium. Then a young scientist, Horatio Peabody, arrives to give a lecture to their space club, but Horatio is nosey and soon finds out about the impending flight. He hides aboard the spacecraft, and once it takes off, reveals himself, and his plans to report Basidium to the world when they return, something David and Chuck are dead set against, as they want to protect the gentle mushroom people who live there from harassment and exploitation. Horatio doesn’t care what they think, he’s after the glory of the scientific discoveries, which will make his reputation.

Once on Basidium, Horatio acts horribly to the friends there the boys have made, and pushes his way into their secrets. Meanwhile, the boys are needed to help with missing Basidiumites, and they must try to stop Horatio with the help of Theo and Ta, the leader of the gentle people.

I found the character of Horatio to be quite annoying, though I guess that was Cameron’s intent, and the plot of the book is less well crafted than the first one, especially at the end. Worth reading, and the series improves again after this.

Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron