Book Club: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

By Elijah Hall on Unsplash

We read The Dark is Rising this month, or rather some of us did. I couldn’t fit it in, what with re-reading Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and listening to She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen. Perhaps book club reads should take priority, but I suspect I would have made more of an effort if I’d wanted to. I like The Dark is Rising, and I know it’s a much better book than Over Sea, Under Stone; that it’s wonderfully atmospheric and haunting, intense and exciting, but I’m just not in love with it. This has something to do with Will Stanton who is a nice boy, but just not my favourite as I find him too bland and unobjectionable. Jane is arguably just as boring, but she is the one whom I love, so I will definitely be re-reading Greenwitch, September’s book.

I did not choose to make time for The Dark is Rising, but I did spare a thought for Herne the Hunter. When I first read the book, the wild hunt made a strong impression on me. I suspect it was the first time I encountered anything as mysterious and frightening in English folklore. When I lived in England in the 90s, I was disappointed to find that no one I met (then) had heard of him, but in the early 90s, I was delighted that Herne was a key character in ITV’s Robin of Sherwood. Alas, the show has not aged well and the mysterious, mystical Herne now just looks like a man taking the piss in a deer costume. (One of my flatmates in Eastbourne came from Herne Bay, but to my great disappointment, the town was not named after the antlered man, but merely refers to a neighbouring village and its geographical placement, herne or hyrne meaning corner in Old English.)

A screenshot of Herne (played by John Abineri) from ITV’s Robin of Sherwood (1992).

Purple Prose

uncle1Gosh, I can’t believe I forgot about this reprint of all six of J.P. Martin’s Uncle books.

We have Marcus Gipps to thank for this edition. Read more here. You can get your copy at Amazon

If you’re not familiar with His Purple Highness, here’s a a piece I wrote for my column:

First published on 8th February,  2009 in The Star

“UNCLE is an elephant. He is immensely rich, and he’s a B.A. He dresses well, generally in a purple dressing gown, and he often rides about on a traction engine, which he prefers to a car.

He lives in a house called Homeward, which is hard to describe, but try to think of about a hundred skyscrapers, all joined together and surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge over it, and you’ll get some idea of it.”Read More »

Susan Saves the Day!

susan sandsI couldn’t resist buying this book today: The Riddle of Raggedrock Ridge, #4 in Marilyn Ezzell’s Susan Sand Mystery Stories series.

I found it at that grubby secondhand bookstore in Amcorp Mall – the very one where I once found a first edition of Antonia Forest’s The Player’s Boy; and where, today, I found two old Kaye Webb-era Puffins: Catweazle by Richard Carpenter, and The Rifle House Friendsby Lois Lamplugh.

But back to Susan Sand. O.M.G.

I’ve never seen or heard of this series before. It’s a Nancy Drew wannabe of course, but I think it’s also  a parody of sorts.Read More »

Book Review: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

chasing vermeerFirst published on 6th February, 2005 in StarMag


By Blue Balliett

Illustrated by Brett Helquist

Publisher: Scholastic

SEVERAL foreign reviews have called Chasing Vermeer a children’s Da Vinci Code, but I think the only thing the books have in common is that they encourage an interest in art, or at least certain artists and their works.

A number of portraits by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer appear in Blue Balliett’s novel, but none harbour secrets about Christianity or the, supposedly, true identity of biblical figures. There are no codes to crack, no puzzles to work out, no trails to follow in Chasing Vermeer. Rather, it becomes gradually clear that the mysteries in this book are solved by methods that are themselves mysterious. They remain, till the very end, unexplained phenomena.

As a result, some readers might close the book feeling short-changed. Personally, I was surprised that so little logic went into the mapping and unfolding of the plot. Pentominoes feature largely in the story, but although they are a mathematical tool, they are used in a strangely fanciful, even superstitious, manner.Read More »