Book Review: Secret Seven on the trail by Enid Blyton

Is something mysterious happening at Tigger’s Barn? Peter thinks it’s a hoax. Then Jack overhears an extraordinary conversation which leads the Seven on a trail of adventure.

I picked up a load of “Famous Five” and “Secret Seven” books from both Bookcrossing and places like the Works. Originally i had brought them with the plan to give them to my nieces when they were younger, but never got the chance (all on me, no one else!). In clearing up a room, I found them again, but by this time the “girls” were too old for these books, so I decided to put into the reading mix.

I picked this one up to read first – not only was it the first of those I had about The Secret Seven books, but it was under 100 pages, so would help me get someway into my slow reading slump.

These would have been age appropriate the last time I read them (late 70s?). I know I was already reading above my age, so it’s quite interesting to remember these books (plus Mallory Towers) were on the reading list.

This is Number 4 in the series, and was (apparently) a line of books to shake up the already established “Famous Five” line. The Secret Seven are an established team, and out of jealousy, Susan – Sister to the SS team member Jack – sets up her own Secret Club, which also gets named as “Famous Five” in deference to the more famouse group of the same name. In order to catch the Seven out, the Five send them off on a Fool’s journey, having lead the latter team to think the Five know about a secret happening up at an old derelict house. Little do the Five know, there IS a secret assignation happening when members of the seven club go up, and the rest of the book is spent working out how to prevent the crime from happening.

I have multiple feelings in reviewing this book. Published in 1952, it’s very much a book of it’s time: Men (boys) are men – therefore leaders, in charge, and the action men. Women (girls) are girly, subservient, to be followers rather than leaders etc – it’s “the boys” who go up against the criminals, not due to their physicality, but because they are “smarter”. However, it is one of the girls who says the magic phrase, that makes everything fall into place. The boys are playing with their train tracks and it’s for “the girls” to set up the farms and animals around the train tracks. You have to love Gender stereotypes.!

Another part of me looks at it for what I like to think it is: A short adventure story for under 10 year olds, who have been brought up with a specific family mindset.

I would be curious as to what the supposed target audience would look at such a style of writing now.
In clearing up a room, I found them again, but by this time the “girls” were too old for these books, so I decided to put into the reading mix.

I picked this one up to read first – not only was it the first of by Secret Seven books, but it was under 100 pages, so would help me get someway into my slow reading slump.

These would have been age appropriate the last time I read them (late 70s?). I know I was already reading above my age, so it’s quite interesting to remember these books (plus Mallory Towers) were on the reading list.

This is Number 4 in the series, and was (apparently) a line of books to shake up the already established “Famous Five” line. The Secret Seven are an established team, and out of jealousy, Susan – Sister to the SS team member Jack – sets up her own Secret Club, which also gets named as “Famous Five” in deference to the more famouse group of the same name. In order to catch the Seven out, the Five send them off on a Fool’s journey, having lead the latter team to think the Five know about a secret happening up at an old derelict house. Little do the Five know, there IS a secret assignation happening when members of the seven club go up, and the rest of the book is spent working out how to prevent the crime from happening.

I have multiple feelings in reviewing this book. Published in 1952, it’s very much a book of it’s time: Men (boys) are men – therefore leaders, in charge, and the action men. Women (girls) are girly, subservient, to be followers rather than leaders etc – it’s “the boys” who go up against the criminals, not due to their physicality, but because they are “smarter”. However, it is one of the girls who says the magic phrase, that makes everything fall into place but Ultimately it’s the boys who get the credit. The boys are playing with their train tracks and it’s for “the girls” to set up the farms and animals around the train tracks. You have to love Gender stereotypes! As the Adult I also find it “interesting” that the Ancillary staff, like the Inspector, is not named.It’s the child who announces “it’s Peter” [therefore you know who I am and you WILL listen to me], rather than the other way around.

Another part of me looks at it for what I like to think it is: A short adventure story for under 10 year olds, who have been brought up with a specific family mindset.

I would be curious as to what the supposed target audience would look at such a style of writing now.

Book Review: Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis

Can the hero of Silver Pigs satisfy the emperor he works for and the woman he pines for without getting himself killed? With readers and critics hungry for his further adventures, Ancient Roman gumshoe Marcus Didius Falco really has no choice.

This is the second in the Falco series of books. Falco is still relatively young (around 30), unmarried, living in the top floor hovel apartment that would ultimately become his daughter’s lodgings, etc.

The opening scene is over the disposal of a corpse down a sewer. and this ultimately results in the search for a freeman called Barnabus, who has a connection to the family of the person found dead (presumed murdered). This leads Falco into a situation involving the upper echelons of Roman society (therefore lots of parties in large Villas), where Falco regi;arly encounters his amour, Helena. This frequently complicates things, as her ex-husband (declared dead 3 months previously) and her new ex-in-laws are deeply entwined in the case Falco is investigating and he doesn’t know what kind of relationship he actually has with Helena

The problem I have with this kind of book is the same one I have with “The Russians”. Everyone has at least 3 different names, which are used depending on gender, role and relationship, so I have a tendency to forget who is who. Short of walking around with a crib-sheet/notebook for every book I read (which I just might have to!) I’m going to be permanently confused. What a shame publishers have stopped producing “cast list”s or at least, handy family trees!

Whilst I enjoyed the book overall, it took me far too long to read, which contributes some (much?) to me forgetting who is who and who has done what. I really should invest more time and energy into these books, as overall I enjoy them, and would like them more if I took the time to pay attention.

Book “Hoarders”

A few years ago, i picked up some books, comics etc that at the time I thought were age appropriate for my nieces and nephews, should they ever come round and need to be entertained. These included Famous Five/Secret Seven Books as well as some colouring in, along with some other books. I have subsequently realised that not only do they not come around as often as I thought they might (my family are crazy!) but they rarely read paper books, which is wot I have in the flat.

A recent splurge in watching “hoarders” on the interwebs has meant I have had the occasional guilt trip over areas I have not cleaned recently. The “Back Room” is one of them, where there are not only a load of cleaning and dusting required, but a bunch of books that need to be dealt with. The call has gone out. I have options. i just need priorities

“Why I dont do the Goodreads challenge anymore”

I stopped taking it seriously a few years ago, pretty much for the same reasons given on the post linked here. Oh the stress I put on myself. I also found I was reading an awful lot of low-page-count slush in the last few months of the year in order to get my numbers up.

Over the last few years, I’ve set an arbitrary number (last year it was 20, down from a previous high of 100), and I didnt get even half way to that. Something I’ve also noticed: Quantity does not mean quality, and some of my “issues” have come from the fact that I’ve been reading trashy fluff for so long, I now find the “proper” books harder to get through, and quite honestly, it’s embarrassing

So what about you dear reader? Do you take part and if so, how?

2021 Blogger Resolutions

It’s now traditional for me to set goals at the beginning of the year, then reflect how I’ve done by the end. Following my failure to achieve these the last few years, I’ve significantly dropped my numbers, in the chance of actually meeting a couple!

Book pages text
Patrick Tomasso via Upsplash

  • Increase subscribers to this blog to 1000, excluding twitter followers
  • Increase annual page hits to this blog (to 7500)
  • Increase twitter followers to @brumnordie (to 800)
  • Read and review 20 books. 50% to be paperbooks or audiobooks.
  • Get my Netgalley ratio into the 72% range (from 66%).
  • To aid in reading the books that I already have there will be a moratorium on requesting books from Netgalley or LibraryThing, and reviewing books I already have,
  • Make better use of twitter, including the analytics, scheduling content.
  • Take part in twitter chats such as #ContentHour, #BrumHour
  • Make use of scheduling and planning software
  • Release more books via Bookcrossing, either in OBCZs or via RABCKs.

2020 Blogger Resolutions – An End Of Year Update

It’s now traditional for me to set goals at the beginning of the year, then reflect how I’ve done by the end. Following my failure to achieve these the last few years, I’ve significantly dropped my numbers, in the chance of actually meeting a couple!  Here is how I performed against the 2020 resolutions

Book pages text
Patrick Tomasso via Upsplash

    • Increase subscribers to this blog to 1000, excluding twitter followers

running very hot at 950+

    • Increase annual page hits to this blog (to 7000)

Despite the lower number of posts, I’ve still managed to get more views this year than what I achieved over the last 5 years, with a reasonable 7217. I’m not entirely sure what I did right! WordPress have changed the way things are done, including the editor. I cant say that I’m impressed with it overall, but much of that could be down to not liking change.

    • Increase twitter followers to @brumnordie (to 950)

Still not there – still hovering around the 778 mark, give or take. A loss in functionality has meant that I dont know exactly who I have lost or gained, but it is usually smaller authors, who dont engage with me, then unfollow when I have failed to engage them at the level they hoped. Until recently I got Google Alerts in order to seek out what I hoped would provide me with some more content, but I found myself drowning in emails, and not getting any contentI found useful.

    • increase twitter followers to @bxbrum (to 280)

I’ve relinquished posting rights to BXBRUM, so have not been tracking numbers for much of 2020. Therefore this is redundant.

    • Read and review 50 books. 50% to be paperbooks or audiobooks.

50? Who said 50? Whatever the number, I’m not even close. I’ve not even hit 50% of the 20 books challenge I have on goodreads

    • Get my Netgalley ratio into the 72% range (from 66%).

I’ve tried to increase my ratio, but with the overall lack of reading, this is not as high as I’d hoped

    • To aid in reading the books that I already have there will be a moratorium on requesting books from Netgalley or LibraryThing, and reviewing books I already have

Done.

    • Make better use of twitter, including the analytics, scheduling content.

It’s been a mixed bag this year. Overall, i have interacted less on twitter, but the numbers on the blog make me wonder. I have tried more targeted tweets, so romance novels in Feb, Christmas in Nov/Dec. Something seems to be working.

    • Take part in twitter chats such as #ContentHour, #BrumHour

See above. To be honest, I’ve not been as active in chats as I should have been. The things I wanted to talk about simply weren’t happening

    • Make use of scheduling and planning software

See above

    • Release more books via Bookcrossing, either in OBCZs or via RABCKs.

LOL. Not happening. I’m using my apartment foyer as a pseudo-shelf, leaving the occasional set of books out. They *are* going, but I’m struggling to workout what people like (as opposed to “i’m bored, I’ll read anything” syndrome.) Odd choices e.g. Mort by Terry Pratchett has gone, Joan Collins went and came back, a Debbie MaComber Christmas Romance apparently never left!

Book Review: SpellBreaker by Charlie M Holmberg

A world of enchanted injustice needs a disenchanting woman in the newest fantasy series by the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician.

The orphaned Elsie Camden learned as a girl that there were two kinds of wizards in the world: those who pay for the power to cast spells and those, like her, born with the ability to break them. But as an unlicensed magic user, her gift is a crime. Commissioned by an underground group known as the Cowls, Elsie uses her spellbreaking to push back against the aristocrats and help the common man. She always did love the tale of Robin Hood.


Elite magic user Bacchus Kelsey is one elusive spell away from his mastership when he catches Elsie breaking an enchantment. To protect her secret, Elsie strikes a bargain. She’ll help Bacchus fix unruly spells around his estate if he doesn’t turn her in. Working together, Elsie’s trust in—and fondness for—the handsome stranger grows. So does her trepidation about the rise in the murders of wizards and the theft of the spellbooks their bodies leave behind.

I got this as a freebie on Amazon, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. This has a world narrative already set up, there is no “I’m going to explain something that is different because I think you’re stupid”. There is some explaining going on, but nothing that patronises the reader – it’s relevant, timely and dealt with appropriately.

London 1895. There are spell makers and there are spell breakers. Every skilled and licenced Spell Maker are called “Master”, even the women. This is a highly regulated field, which usually means that only the rich get to take part. The less rich (but with talent) tend to be unlicenced and therefore effectively practice outside the law.

This is down as a “duology” and therefore not a trilogy. 2 parts, not 3. Ok. Makes a nice change.

This book establishes the world, and the main characters. The narrator is Elsie, who was (apparently) abandoned by her parents and siblings when she was much younger, and the finding her family has been much of her focus. Another part of her focus has been what she calls “the Cowls” i.e. those hidden in the shadows but still directing her spell breaking skills. She is sent on various jobs – unfortunately only realising (often too late) what those tasks meant.

Meanwhile, during one of her early spells, Elsie is found by Bacchus Kelsey, and the two strike a bargain – she breaks some spells for him, and he wont betray her secret.  His mother is Portuguese, his father English, and he is based in Barbados where he spends a lot of his time in the sun, so he’s a lot darker than the locals. Not much is made of this, which is hopefully a good thing. Just enough to remind readers that “not all leading men have to be white, you know?”. I just hope this is not seen as a tokenism thing – there is noone else like Bacchus in the story, more’s the pity.

Whilst most of the story is told from Elsie’s point of view, we get some stories from Bacchus, at least where he attempts to look after his friend’s estate (the whole reason for meeting Elsie), plus his attempt to become a Master Spellmaker – through legal means, of course! If there is a downside to this book, it is that Bacchus and his attempt to become a Master SpellMaker is a tad underused.

Anyway, the threads start to come together in the last third or so of the book and because I don’t do spoilers I wont give away what happens here!. It pulls all the threads together whilst setting up the chance at a second book, which wont me out till 2021 (naturally, lol!). First freebie in ages where I’ve looked up the following book – that says a LOT!

 

 

Book Review: The Perfect Christmas by Debbie Macomber

 

WHAT WOULD MAKE YOUR CHRISTMAS PERFECT?

For Cassie Beaumont, it’s meeting her perfect match. Cassie, at thirty-three, wants a husband and kids, and so far, nothing’s worked. Not blind dates, not the Internet and certainly not leaving love to chance.

What’s left? A professional matchmaker. He’s Simon Dodson, and he’s very choosy about the clients he takes on. Cassie finds Simon a difficult, acerbic know-it-all, and she’s astonished when he accepts her as a client.

Claiming he has her perfect mate in mind, Simon assigns her three tasks to complete before she meets him. Three tasks that are all about Christmas: being a charity bell ringer, dressing up as Santa’s elf at a children’s party and preparing a traditional turkey dinner for her neighbors (whom she happens to dislike). Despite a number of comical mishaps, Cassie does it all — and she’s finally ready to meet her match.

But just like the perfect Christmas gift, he turns out to be a wonderful surprise!

Continue reading

Deciding on whether to DNF a book

I think I’ve written about this before, but the following post popped into my feed recently and I thought I’d write about it again.

I never DNF books: Here’s why

For anyone that doesnt know: DNF means Did Not Finish. DNC is Did Not Complete. Both are essentially the same thing….the reader started a book, and had to make a decision over whether or not to finish it.

Some readers will NEVER DNF a book (see above post).  Some will DNF with various caveats. I’m in the latter camp. I havent taken a picture of my recent TBR (To Be Read) pile, but it has spread from the shelves to below and above the coffee table, several piles on the sofa and a huge pile on the bedside table. At the rate I’m reading at the moment, I dont have time to finish the books I actually enjoy, never mind the books I dont.

When I come across a book that I’m not enjoying and I’m thinking of abandoning it, I have to make a decision as to why.

  • Do I have a problem with the book itself (e.g. they way it’s written, the characters, etc)? If that’s the case, I will put in the “go somewhere else” pile and never look at it again.
  • Is the book potentially ok, and I’m currently not in the right mood for this right now?  This is always possible, and generally why I don’t prescribe a set order in which to read a book. I find this is too close to “homework” and I will instantly dislike a book that I could have loved under different circumstances and times.  Therefore the book gets put back on the shelf, to be attempted again later. Often I’ve forgotten I’ve tried that book before so I often go in “fresh” to a book!

So, dear reader, what is your stance? How do you approach a book that you are struggling with?

 

 

Book Sharing during Covid

Photograph: Joel Saget/ AFP/ Getty Images
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I have a number of bookshelves around several counties that I normally look to help keep stocked with books, but because of Covid I have been unable to keep shelves stocked. I have so many books and not the chance to go to let books be free. If my abode looked like a second hand book store before – it’s even worse now!

In an attempt to keep my flat a bit tidy, whilst keeping my neighbours entertained, I’ve kept an unofficial shelf in the Foyer of our building. There is a postit on the mirror telling people the books are free to take away and either keep or bring back (I dont assume that they understand the idea behind Bookcrossing – I’ve know I’ve never discussed it with anyone).

I leave up to 20 or so books there for a one or two months, and see what goes and comes back. Fair play, people are using it. They don’t bring their own books, but they return the books they took. I’ve tried to guess what people like (to little avail) – all I know is that someone likes books from the Collins girls! (waiting for that second one by Joan to come back!).

I’ve been surprised by the books they haven’t gone for – the police procedural, the romances and the satirical books have not been taken up.  I’m doubting my ability to know what my neighbours like to read. Perhaps I *should* put out the kinky vampire books, and see if they go!

So, dear reader, are you reaching out to your neighbours? Books? Shopping? Something else? Anyone surprising you?